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Daily Mail Wins Worst Science Article Prize

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The folks at the Daily Mail are big fans of science, regularly covering cutting-edge research from universities in the UK and abroad. But do scientists feel the same way about the English newspaper?

Not so much.

Each year, Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at England's University of Oxford, gives an award for "an article in an English-language national newspaper that achieves an unusually high level of inaccuracy." This year the Daily Mail garnered the dubious honor for its article "Just ONE cannabis joint ‘can cause psychiatric episodes similar to schizophrenia’ as well as damaging memory."

The article set a record low on Bishop's inaccuracy scale. It implied that humans could experience psychiatric episodes if they smoked small amounts of cannabis. The study the article was based on showed only that smoking an ultra-strong, synthetic compound similar to cannabis yielded inconclusive results--and the study involved not humans but mice.

The prize, properly the "Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misrepresentation," is given on the basis of a point system, with three points for an error in a headline, two points for an error in a subhead, and one point for an error in the text. The winning article was awarded 23 points, achieving a new standard above last year's example article, which received 16.

Perhaps the award should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as the Daily Mail article was the only piece nominated.

Science writer and media critic Neurobonkers conducted a point-by-point demolition of the article in a blog post, noting that "Words that appear in the Daily Mail but that don't appear once in the study" included "behavior, cannabis, smoking, strongest, joint, developing, young, paranoid, mental, problems, accurate, mimics, trigger, abuse, abusers."

What does the Daily Mail have to say? Huffington Post Science emailed an inquiry to the Mail's editors, but it went unanswered by press time.

For the record, one joint is unlikely to reproduce the symptoms shown in the paper, let alone "cause psychiatric episodes." Assuming the chemical in the study is 30-times stronger than ordinary stuff and that a regular half-gram joint would carry 5% THC, a quick calculation suggests that a 150-lb. person would need to smoke about 25 joints all at once to even begin to approximate the dosage.