Michael Douglas, the film actor, is currently all over Google and other online publishing sites, not unlike a rash, if you’ll excuse the analogy. He’s not there because of Thespian activities but because of a rather startling claim he made regarding the source of his throat cancer which is (may Zeus be praised) in remission.
That his claim (now retracted by his spokesman) received so much credulous coverage is not surprising. Too many journalists worship the cult of celebrity and believe that everything those such as Douglas utter is newsworthy, irrespective of its accuracy.
The former model turned columnist Katie Price for example, has trenchant views about feminism. Writing in the Sun she says: “… it irritates me when feminists go on about women being hard done by in comparison to men. There are a lot of women who ponce off men and spend all day getting their nails done and having lunch with a credit card that isn’t theirs. I haven’t got time for people like that.”
She is equally forthright about inequality. After visiting Oxford to be a star attraction at the Union (our Boris was President a while back) she told her readers: “In my career I started out by getting my kit off — but now I’m being asked to talk about serious things at Oxford and Cambridge. Going there was an eye-opener, I can tell you. It taught me that just because you’ve been to a posh school it doesn’t mean to say you’ve got better manners than people who haven’t. Some of those people didn’t know how to hold a knife and fork properly, whereas I managed to pick up an olive perfectly with my cocktail stick.”
But back to Douglas. It didn’t take long for a qualified medical person to pooh-pooh his astonishing claim, published solely because of who he is and to whom he is married.
Ben Goldacre’s weekly column in the Guardian should be required reading by news folk who write about medical and scientific matters. His specialist subject is “… unpicking dodgy scientific claims from drug companies, newspapers, government reports, PR people and quacks”. As he says, “unpicking bad science is the best way to explain good science”.