Tag Archives: Ben Goldacre

How the five journalists with the greatest online influence use social media

Ben Goldacre, whose Bad Science blog and column in the Guardian keeps journalists writing about health in check; Hilary Alexander, fashion director of the Telegraph; Jemima Kiss, technology writer at the Guardian; Robert Peston, business editor for the BBC and Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch UK have all been ranked by PeerIndex as the five UK journalists with the greatest online influence.

PeerIndex measures social capital using a method very similar to that which Google uses to calculate its page rank. It automatically ranks those with a Twitter account but users can also add LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr and Quora accounts.

Here is a snapshot of stats on how the top five people in the list of the UK’s 100 most influential journalists online use social media.

1. Ben Goldacre @bengoldacre

In his own words: “Nerd cheerleader, Bad Science person, stats geek, research fellow in epidemiology, procrastinator.”
All his own tweets? Yes
Followers: More than 114,000
Total tweets: more than 13,500
Following: 765
Average number of tweets per day: 22
Average number of additional followers a day: 258
Facebook: a page with more than 11,000 likes
LinkedIn: no presence

Ben Goldacre’s Twitter account contains a mix of blog posts, retweets, personal opinions and conversations with other users. His behaviour is very active and social, making his feed entertaining and interesting.

2. Hilary Alexander @HilaryAlexander

In her own words: “Fashion and style news from the @Telegraph”
All her own tweets? No, they are also sent by other Telegraph fashion journalists
Followers: Almost 180,000
Total tweets: More than 5,600
Following: 165
Average number of tweets per day: 13
Average number of additional followers a day: 327
Facebook: a page with around 150 likes
LinkedIn: not active

Hilary Alexander is a name journalist who appears on television talking about fashion, hence the substantial following. Her Twitter feed consists of links to her column and comments. There is very little interaction.

3. Jemima Kiss @jemimakiss

In her own words: “Guardian writer, interwebbist and mother, not necessarily in that order. And totally offline, on sabbatical, until 28 May. Ain’t no tweetin’ going on ’til then.” We have spotted the odd rogue tweet, however
All her own tweets? Yes
Followers: More than 24,500
Total tweets: More than 18,000
Following: 581
Average number of tweets per day: 9
Average number of additional followers a day: 35
Facebook: a profile but no page
LinkedIn: 417 connections

Jemima Kiss was the most-followed British journalist on Twitter for a couple of years, but maternity leave allowed others to overtake her, even though she announced her son’s birth online within hours of the fact. When she is active her feed is a very social mix of articles, conversation, pictures and observations.

4. Robert Peston @peston

In his own words: “Business Editor for the BBC”
Followers: More than 36,000
Total tweets: More than 1,400
Following: 171
All his own tweets? Yes, some automated to send links of blog posts
Average number of tweets per day: 16
Average number of additional followers a day: 400
Facebook: a page with 482 likes
LinkedIn: not active

Robert Peston is another “name”. His Twitter account consists extensively of links to articles and observations. However, he does retweet and reference people in his observations even though he is not a conversational tweeter.

5. Mike Butcher @mikebutcher

In his own words: “Editor, TechCrunch Europe: @TCEurope Full bio: mbites.com/contact
All his own tweets? Yes
Followers: More than 24,000
Total tweets: Almost 20,000
Following: 4,429
Average number of tweets per day: 24
Average number of additional followers a day: 30
Facebook: a profile but no page
LinkedIn: +500 connections

Mike Butcher is another conversational tweeter. It can be difficult to find his articles on his Twitter account because he is always retweeting and chatting as well as writing his observations.

Additional reporting by Sarah Booker.

Peer Index: The top 100 UK journalists on Twitter

Peer Index has ranked the 100 most authoritative UK journalists on Twitter. The ranking platform uses resonance, reach, activity, and other metrics to tot up a number for tweeters.

In first place is Telegraph fashion and style writer Hilary Alexander, who currently commands a Peer Index of 78 and a following of 176,238.

In second place is Bad Science blogger and Guardian writer Ben Goldacre, who has an index of 76 and a following of 105,885.

Journalism lecturer and founder of helpmeinvestigate.com Paul Bradshaw, who will be speaking at Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired conference, is in 7th place, and fellow news:rewired speaker Kevin Anderson is 10th.

See the full list at this link.

Are you on the j-list? The leading innovators in journalism and media in 2010

Updated 05/08/2010

Recent industry lists ranking the great and good in journalism and the media fell a bit short of the mark for Journalism.co.uk. Where were the online innovators? Where were the journalists on the ground outside of the executives’ offices?

So we’ve compiled our own rundown listing those people we think are helping to build the future of journalism and the news media.

Some important points to note:

  • There are no rankings to this list – those included are from such varied areas of work it seemed pointless;
  • We will have missed some people out – let us know in the comments below or with the hashtag #jlist who you are working with that should be included;
  • We’ve listed groups as well as individuals – with individuals we hope you’ll see them as representing a wider team of people, who have worked together on something great;
  • And it’s not limited to 50 or 100 – we’ll see where it takes us…

So here’s the first batch. There’s a Twitter list of those included so far at this link and more will be added in the coming weeks.

Click on the ‘more’ link after these five to to see the full list.

Tomáš Bella

Tomáš Bella was editor-in-chief and deputy director of Sme.sk, the Slovak republic’s most popular news site. He was author of the first European newspaper-owned blogportal (blog.sme.sk, 2004) and the first digg-like service (vybrali.sme.sk, 2006). In April 2010 he co-founded Prague-based new media consultancy NextBig.cz and is working on a payment system to allow the access to all the premium content of major newspapers and TV stations with one payment.

Paul Steiger

While ProPublica’s not-for-profit, foundation-funded model may be something commercial news organisations can never share, its investment in and triumphing of investigative and data journalism cannot be overlooked. The way in which it involves a network of readers in its research and actively encourages other sites to “steal” its stories shows a new way of thinking about journalism’s watchdog role. Image courtesy of the Knight Foundation on Flickr.

Chris Taggart

Paul Bradshaw’s description of his fellow j-lister: “Chris has been working so hard on open data in 2010 I expect steam to pour from the soles of his shoes every time I see him. His ambition to free up local government data is laudable and, until recently, unfashionable. And he deserves all the support and recognition he gets.”

Ian Hislop/Private Eye

Not much to look at on the web perhaps, but the Eye’s successful mixture of satire, humour and heavyweight investigations has seen its circulation rise. It blaized a trail during the Carter-Ruck and Trafigura gagging ordeal and has even lent it’s support to j-list fellow the Hackney Citizen to protect press freedom from international to hyperlocal levels. Image courtesy of Nikki Montefiore on Flickr.

Brian Boyer

Amidst the talk of what journalists can learn from programmers and what coding skills, if any, journalists need, Brian Boyer was making the move the other way from programming to a programmer-journalist. His university and personal projects in this field have been innovative and have got him noticed by many a news organisation – not least the Chicago Tribune, where he now works as a news applications editor. He blogs at Hacker Journalist.


Originally built to map reports from citizens of post-election violence in Kenya, Ushahidi’s development of interactive, collaborative and open source mapping technology has been adopted by aid agencies and news organisations alike. It’s a new means of storytelling and a project that’s likely to develop more tools for journalists in the future.

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Ben Goldacre calls for new website for publishing unedited source material

Ben Goldacre suggests a new website could be set up as “a repository of ingredients” for news stories to improve the media’s transparency when it comes to primary sources and give readers “unmediated/unedited access to full comments from interested parties”.

Such a site would contain, says Goldacre:

  • A website that gives each news story a unique ID;
  • Any involved party can add/upload a full press release or quote to that story’s page;
  • Anyone can add a link to a primary source;
  • Anyone can vote these up or down like on digg/reddit;
  • You can register as a “trusted source” and not need to be modded up or down;
  • Anyone can add a link to media coverage of that story.

Full post on Ben Goldacre’s website…

Related reading on the transparency debate: ‘Should newspapers publish full interview transcripts online?’

Comedy stars stage benefit gig for libel reform

Comedians, scientists and politicians will joins forces to stage a West End show aimed at speaking out against UK libel laws.

The Big Libel Gig will take place at London’s Palace Theatre on Sunday, 14 March 2010.

Hosting the gig will be comedian Robin Ince, co-creator of the event alongside science writer Simon Singh. As previously reported on Journalism.co.uk, Singh is currently facing libel charges brought by the British Chiropractic Association.

Singh has been granted leave to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s intial ruling, and the appeal will take place on 22 February.

In a press release about the event, Singh says: “Peter Wilmshurst, Ben Goldacre and I will talk about being sued for libel. Peter is being sued for raising concerns about a heart device. He faces bankruptcy by coming up against our draconian libel laws. We are all put at risk if doctors and scientists are scared to speak out because of English libel laws.”

The gig will conclude Libel Reform Week, which according to its organisers the Coalition for Libel Reform aims to “urge political parties to commit to major reforms before the election”.

The coalition – which will receive all funds raised by the Big Libel Gig – was established by the charities Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science.

The confirmed line-up includes Dara Ó Briain, Tim Minchin, Marcus Brigstocke, Robin Ince, Ed Byrne, Shappi Khorsandi and Professor Brian Cox.

Tickets are now on sale on Seetickets.com.

PCC and the third party issue

On Friday, it was suggested by some online commenters and Twitterers that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) would not deal with third party complaints over the Jan Moir case.

This would seem logical, given the the self-regulatory body’s rules, which state:

“The PCC does not generally accept complaints from third parties about cases involving named individuals without the signed authorisation of the person concerned.”

However, there is an exception: it can investigate complaints from any party about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the PCC Code, the PCC has confirmed.

A response issued by the PCC to an individual third party complainant, Nikki Bayley (@nikkib on Twitter), reproduced in full here on MetroDeco, seemed to indicate a third party complaint would not be addressed in relation to Moir:

“On this occasion, it may be a matter for the family of Mr Gately to raise a complaint about how his death has been treated by the Daily Mail.  I can inform you that we have made ourselves available to the family and Mr Gately’s bandmates, in order that they can use our services if they wish. We require the direct involvement of affected parties because the PCC process can have a public outcome and it would be discourteous for the Commission to publish information relating to individuals without their knowledge or consent.  Indeed, doing so might unwittingly add to any intrusion.  Additionally, one of the PCC’s roles is dispute resolution, and we would need contact with the affected party in order to determine what would be an acceptable means of settling a complaint. On initial examination, it would appear that you are, therefore, a third party to the complaint, and we will not be able to pursue your concerns further.  However, if you feel that your complaint touches on claims that do not relate directly to Mr Gately or his family, please let us know, making clear how they raise a breach of the Code of Practice. If you feel that the Commission should waive its third party rules, please make clear why you believe this.

So perhaps she could raise a complaint over accuracy, if she feels Moir made false or misleading statements.

In the PCC’s statement today, reporting the largest number of complaints for a single article in the body’s history (21,000), there was hint of some third party consideration.

While it was contacting affected parties who would ‘naturally be given precedence by the Commission, in line with its normal procedures’ it would also put ‘more general complaints’ to the Daily Mail:

“If, for whatever reason, those individuals [affected parties] do not wish to make a complaint, the PCC will in any case write to the Daily Mail for its response to the more general complaints from the public before considering whether there are any issues under the Code to pursue.”

Of course that doesn’t mean it will pursue an investigation, but at least it is acknowledging the significance of such large-scale complaint. Martin Belam, who blogged about the third party issue earlier this year in regards to another Daily Mail story, is less hopeful:

“The PCC’s initial response on Jan Moir has been pretty weasel-worded, and, unless Stephen Gately’s family do complain directly, I’m extremely doubtful that we’ll see any kind of ruling against the paper. Other approaches may yet prove more fruitful,” Belam writes.

On another third party issue, Journalism.co.uk asked the PCC about complaints received over cervical cancer vaccine reports.

In a recent Guardian article, also published on his Bad Science blog, Ben Goldacre highlighted the case of a scientist featured in a Sunday Express article about the dangers of the cervical cancer vaccine, titled ‘Jab ‘as deadly as the cancer”.

The Sunday Express quoted Professor Diane Harper in its front page story on October 4 2009:

“Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express, Dr Diane Harper, who was involved in the clinical trials of the controversial drug Cervarix, said the jab was being ‘over-marketed’ and parents should be properly warned about the potential side effects.”

Harper, however, was not happy with the treatment of her information:

“I did not say that Cervarix was as deadly as cervical cancer,” Harper told Goldacre. “I did not say that Cervarix could be riskier or more deadly than cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix was controversial, I stated that Cervarix is not a ‘controversial drug’. I did not ‘hit out’ – I was contacted by the press for facts. And this was not an exclusive interview.” Looking for a quality product? Check out Supertest 450 – 10ml Vial at Stero Market for the best deals.

Goldacre reported:

“The article has now disappeared from the Express website, and Professor Harper has complained to the PCC. “I fully support the HPV vaccines,”” she says. “I believe that in general they are safe in most women. I told the Express all of this.””

Journalism.co.uk asked the PCC about the complaint and whether it would handle any third party concerns about cervical cancer scaremongering. A spokesperson said:

“We have received a complaint from Professor Harper, which we are currently investigating.

“The Commission can actually investigate complaints from any party about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

“On this occasion, we received seven other complaints from readers about this article. We do not keep figures about the general reporting of the subject, but anecdotally I do not believe that there are many more.”

So it would seem third party concerns regarding this story would be addressed, if more were made.

Science journalism needs fewer science writers and more editors, says Goldacre

Science journalists were subject to intense criticism in a debate between science minister Lord Drayson and Bad Science blogger Ben Goldacre on Wednesday night.

Current standards of ‘dodgy coverage’ are having an impact on public health, argued Goldacre, who is a medical doctor and writes weekly for the Guardian exposing inaccurate science journalism.

He attributed the problem to a ‘systems failure’ within media organisations, with editors making ill-informed decisions about how science stories are covered.

“We should get scientists to talk about stuff in their own way. There should be fewer science writers and more editors shaping academic ideas,” he said.

Goldacre also encouraged academics to promote good public engagement from their own departments and to start their own blogs. His key criticisms against the mainstream press were a reliance on press releases and a failure to engage with the ‘nerds’, he said.

“There is nothing out there for the people who did biochemistry 10 years ago and now work in middle management at Marks & Spencer,” he said.

But Drayson insisted there was an ‘admirable and improving standard’ of science reporting in the mainstream press, saying that Dr Goldacre’s criticism ‘risks undermining’ the trust between the academic community and the media.

Sensationalism was not necessarily a bad quality in science stories, Drayson added.

“The very nature of the media means that to get that communication, it has to cut through the noise. But sensationalism must be accurate and based upon good science – I don’t see them as mutually exclusive,” he said.

Drayson also countered criticism levelled against journalists interpreting academic ideas and particularly praised specialist writers: “It’s very important for us to support our journalists within their media organisations and recognise when they are doing a good job. They are vital to the general public and we need to have this access.”

Drayson refused to be drawn when the audience raised the issue of libel laws as a barrier to investigative science journalism.

After concluding the debate, however, he did tweet his e-mail address to help those who feel misrepresented by the media.

Shona Ghosh is a freelance journalist. She blogs at http://shonaghosh.com/.

Goldacre and Drayson live debate at 7pm: Science reporting – is it good for you?

Cast your minds back a couple of months: Lord Drayson, the UK’s science minister, proclaimed that British science journalism was in a pretty good state.

Drayson said the days when science was blighted by a press interested only in ‘scare stories’ are over,’ Times Higher Education (THE) reported in July 2009.

Most coverage of science by the media is now balanced, accurate and engaging, Lord Drayson argued, in a debate at the World Conference of Science Journalists.

But not everyone agreed. After Ben Goldacre – Guardian columnist, BadScience blogger/author and medical doctor – aired his conflicting opinion on Twitter, a public discussion was arranged by the Royal Institution. And tonight’s the night. If you haven’t got a ticket, it’s too late (it sold out in 90 minutes, Press Gazette noted) but you can watch the live video here on the THE website:

And follow THE on Twitter here:

You can also listen to the pair on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme at this link:

Science journalism: a row

This week is the World Conference of Science Journalists (#WCSJ). This is what the Independent’s Steve Connor had to say in an article entitled ‘Lofty medics should stick to their day job.’

“The sixth World Conference of Science Journalists is underway in London. I can’t say it’s going to change my life, as I missed out on the previous five, but I did notice that it has attracted the attention of a bunch of medics with strong views on the state of science journalism today.”

Connor picked up on a gathering advertised by Ben Goldacre (a post-event meet-up on July 1 with  Petra Boynton and Vaughan Bell) and quoted Goldacre’s website, labelling him as the ‘bête noir’ of science journalists.

“All three speakers are gainfully employed by the public sector so they don’t actually have to worry too much about the sort of pressures and financial constraints the mainstream media are under. But they nevertheless condescended to offer some advice on the sort of ‘best practice guidelines’ I should be following, for which I suppose I should be eternally grateful.

“But their arrogance is not new. Medical doctors in particular have always had a lofty attitude to the media’s coverage of their profession, stemming no doubt from the God-like stance they take towards their patients. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say their profession is broken, dangerous, lazy, venal and silly – not yet anyway.”

Ouch. Goldacre spotted it and comments beneath his post, and Connor’s article, are flowing pretty fast. Goldacre also reproduces a letter and email sent to the Independent, on his blog.

  • Here’s the letter sent to the Independent (unpublished as yet):

Dear Sir,

Your science journalist Steve Connor is furious that we are holding a small public meeting in a pub to discuss the problem that science journalists are often lazy and inaccurate. He gets the date wrong, claiming the meeting has already happened (it has not). He says we are three medics (only one of us is). He then invokes some stereotypes about arrogant doctors, which we hope are becoming outdated.

In fact, all three of us believe passionately in empowering patients, with good quality information, so they can make their own decisions about their health. People often rely on the media for this kind of information. Sadly, in the field of science and medicine, on subjects as diverse as MMR, sexual health, and cancer prevention, the public have been repeatedly and systematically misled by journalists.

We now believe this poses a serious threat to public health, and it is sad to see the problem belittled in a serious newspaper. Steve Connor is very welcome to attend our meeting, which is free and open to all,


(Drs) Vaughan Bell, Petra Boynton, Ben Goldacre

In other WCSJ news, Goldacre wasn’t too happy with the panel addressing science and investigative journalism yesterday. He tweeted from the event: “so what about investigative science journalism done by bloggers? not a single person addressed the question. these ppl need to read more.”

Bad Science: Ben Goldacre on scientists and the media

Ben Goldacre links to his interview for the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 – ‘talking about dumbing down science’. He joins Kathy Sykes, who has just written a piece in New Scientist on the topic, to discuss scientists and their participation in the media.

Full post at this link…