Cherry Picking and the Professional Association of Teachers

June 20th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, electrosensitivity | 56 Comments »

It’s a small thing, but if Wi-Fi and reality editing interest you, then here is a quick letter I just pinged off. Before you accuse me of being a little too interested, I can write veeeery quickly, and this kind of phenomenon really does fascinate me.

Dear Professional Association of Teachers,

I have just received a small avalanche of emails from teachers advising me about an article that appeared on the front cover of your magazine: unfortunately it’s not available online, but it would be great if you were able to send me a copy. Visiting your website I must say I am absolutely fascinated by what you have chosen to link, and not link, from your page on electrosensitivity.

It would appear that you have decided to cherry pick only those articles and websites that support your chosen hypothesis that electromagnetic exposures do cause the symptoms complained of. For example, you link to a wide range of campaigning websites, and videos, and even obscure local newspaper articles, but you diligently do not link to my criticisms of the Panorama program.

Amusingly, however, you do link to the response by lobby group (and ES protective equipment retailer) Powerwatch on their website, to my criticisms.

At, a resource widely used by science teachers and to promote the public understanding of science, where my work has won such prizes as best science feature, best health freelance, and the Royal Statistical Society’s inaugural award for Statistical Excellence in Journalism, you will find not only my Guardian articles on the way that the evidence for ES has been deliberately and selectively distorted by people such as yourselves, but also my piece in the British Medical Journal (to which – again, rather amusingly – you link only the responses!); many other informative posts on this and other instances of the media and lobby groups with financial vested interests distorting abd misrepresenting scientific research; and most crucially, free and open discussion forums where all are welcome to post their views, and where there is a surprisingly high level of discussion and debate, something which is actively verboten on for example the Powerwatch site to which you link many times.

I am writing this not to promote my own work but really because I am genuinely fascinated by the tortuous lengths which people will go to in order to present only one side of a story. It saddens me greatly that a teachers organisation should promote such heinous and irresponsible cherry picking of scientific information, and in my view you do your members a great disservice.

I shall very much enjoy using this example in my sessions at the Royal Institution next week working with science teachers on how to promote critical thinking in science.

yours faithfully,

Dr Ben Goldacre

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

56 Responses

  1. tom1 said,

    July 17, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Darn it! I can’t watch from work, but they have a webcast of the wifi council meeting:

  2. tom1 said,

    July 17, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    I’ve finally gotten around to watching this. My old primary school Teatherdown is at fault.

    The council’s own report said the council didn’t have the resources to assess the dangers of wifi and should rely on the HPA report. Some parents then came on and explained that computers were associated with low attainment levels, the HPA were part of a conspiracy and had hushed up their own chair, clinical trials had been rigged, they quote the Professional Association of Teachers etc…..

    One interesting thing is that they talk about organizing a public seminar over the summer…. 🙂 I am SO there! Ben?


  3. tom1 said,

    July 18, 2007 at 2:51 am

    I haven’t been this disenchanted by the way the system makes decisions since I did jury service. Stuff it, I’m writing to my councillor.


  4. tom1 said,

    July 18, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Much of this was based on statements that the concerned parents thought Ben’s mate Dr Andrew Goldsworthy would have said, had he been there, which he wasn’t. Everybody was very vague about whether he had been due to show or not.

    Is there a view on this forum on Dr Goldsworthy? I’ve read his response to Ben’s “Why don’t journalists mention the data?” article at the BMJ, but I don’t recall seeing him discussed here.

    Finally, if anybody has any reccommended reading list to bone up on EMF I’d appreciate it.


  5. tom1 said,

    August 6, 2007 at 11:20 am


    Oh I agree. The problem is convincing people.

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