Dore, bloggers and Bad Science

It would be gratifying to report that the recent suspension of activities by the Dore company was the direct result of a better public understanding of research methods.

Unfortunately, it is not quite as clear cut as that. The direct cause of Dore’s demise seems to be financial. First Australian, then UK and USA operations have been suspended following unsustainable losses rather than methodological concerns.

You would hope that truth will out. Informed criticism of  research which does not, on examination, support the central claim that the Dore method successfully ‘cures’  dyslexia should take a toll on sales.

If the Dore suspension is a result of public criticism rather than financial miscalculation, bloggers have played a key part.

Ben Goldacre has a generous piece which recognises the contribution of the other bloggers (that’s those without a Guardian column and access to newspaper libel lawyers) who have written about this. He also points out that the record of mainstream newspapers and TV in uncritically broadcasting PR for Dore has been abysmal. Read it here.

One of those bloggers, Holfordwatch, has a piece commenting on coverage of the Dore closure by the Sun, Times and Independent. Two of these are rated as good impartial reporting , one is not. Find out which ‘dismally fails’ “to assess whether there is good quality evidence that Dore works”, here.

It could be worse. You might have relied on The Leamington Spa Courier as your local paper of record. As recently as January 2008 The Courier relayed claims of a ‘major breakthrough in the treatment of autism‘ and that  “the Dore clinic has achieved massive successes while working with 1,000 patients suffering from the symptoms of high-functioning autism”. Post-closure, Dore claims to have “successfully treated more than 10,000 people in the UK and helped patients in America, Australia and Hong Kong ” were reported as fact. A 2001 Tonight with Trevor MacDonald documentary is mentioned, the critical OFCOM judgement it generated is not.

Does it matter? No doubt the people who worked for Dore believed in what they were doing. (After all, they were told that the treatment methods were backed by research.) The Courier is a local paper without the resources for investigative journalism. It is difficult for non-experts to judge which research papers are good and which are not. Nobody told me. And so on.

But you will recall that criticism of Dore claims has been building for years (see Goldacre article above). It’s published on the web in academic journals and blogs. Do a search.

It matters because the public depends on journalists to interpret research. If journalists re-write press releases without subjecting them to critical analysis, they are failing their readers.

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