‘The Lancashire Evening Post publishes fake news’

Fake news is not a recent occurrence. It did not start during the US elections and is not a side effect of social media. Journalists, even at respected news agencies, have always been publishing articles that, intentionally or not, give a somewhat embellished version of the truth to entice the reader. They often use bold catchy titles like “worlds first” or “breakthrough discovery” to gain the attention of today’s easily distracted audience. They often use tiny single quotation marks to indicate they are citing someone so they can not be held accountable for false statements. However, to the unperceptive reader, such statement can be perceived as true. I did the same with the title of this blog, see? Someone told me the Lancashire Evening Post publishes fake news. I might have asked someone to tell me this, or I might have told myself in the mirror. You don’t know. Oh and no, obviously I can not reveal my sources.

These fake news articles are very prominent in the popular science sections. The sources of these articles are often the PR departments at companies, which use it for free promotion or to advertise a new product. Shortly after my communications with Med Imaging Ltd, I came across an article on the Lancashire Evening Post website (here), which in large letters claims: “City hospital’s 3D scanner world first”. Already this is misinformation since no 3D scanner was installed. But they continue with: “For the first time, 3D software has been installed on the scanner, which means the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust can now get a better and more accurate view of patient’s bones.” There is no evidence whatsoever that this software provides a better view of a patient’s bone than what is possible with established technologies. In fact, in coming blog posts I will explain how this software most likely gives a distorted view of the health of a patients bone. Admittedly slightly late, I contacted the Lancashire Evening Post to ask them to remove this article since it is making false claims. This is the response I received from Gillian Parkinson:

Hello Mr Whitmarsh,

Firstly, allow me to apologise for not getting back to you. I thought someone had replied.

The article in question came out of an original communication from an official press office source about a new service for patients at our local hospital.

The article sticks to the facts of the story – that the service exists – and does not attempt to say where the software originated from.

Given that we don’t go into that level of detail and your issue is not part of the reporting here, I’m not sure it would be appropriate for me to remove a story from our archives when it is recording the facts and has come from an official source with legal protection for publication.

Gillian Parkinson (Editor – Lancashire Evening Post) 2016-11-03

Once more I explain that the title is factually not true and that this article is misleading elderly patients in the Lancashire area into believing they will receive a diagnosis that is better than what they get elsewhere. I then ask her to provide me with the official press office (I’m not sure what makes a press office “official”, but is sure sound legitimate). I received the following reply.

Mr Whitmarsh,

We simply cannot remove articles which are factually correct. This is part of our archives and we provide an historical record for the city of Preston.

Gillian Parkinson (Editor – Lancashire Evening Post) 2016-11-03

I once again ask for the source of this press release, but received no reply. I am now getting very suspicious. Why would she not reveal the source of a “factually correct” article? I do have a theory though. I’m not sure it’s true, but I’m just going to throw it out there anyway. What if they got payed for posting this fake news article. I mean, it sounds reasonable. News papers are having a hard time with dwindling subscribers and readers. They need to make money somehow. Besides, they already publish advertisements. It’s not such a big leap to go to printing a text from some organisation for money, even though you do no fact checking and pretend it’s a legitimate article by one of your journalists. They would also have serious problems when removing such article, with a breach of contract, reimbursements and what not. With regards to the source of this particular article, I’m pretty sure it’s Med Imaging Ltd. They themselves have this article on their website (http://www.medimaging.co.uk/2014/07/city-hospitals-3d-scanner-world-first/). If it was written by a journalist at the Lancashire Evening Post, they would be committing plagiarism. Although, we now know that distributors of Diagnostic Medical Systems would have no problem with that either.