The Royal College of Surgeons is an unreliable witness

I don’t blog so much nowadays – trying to get on with the rest of my life. But, a story I heard on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning piqued my interest. A 24% increase in dental extractions in young children. Shocking if true!

The BBC website story was headlined:

  • Baby teeth removals ‘up 24% in a decade’

Where did it come from?

It turns out to be one those public affairs generated, producer interested, made up stories – this time from the Royal College of Surgeons. The headline on their press release is eye catching and simply spits in the eye of scientific rigour:

  • Shocking 24% increase in tooth extractions performed on children aged 0-4 in last decade

You can see the BBC website’s headline was essentially a cut down version of the one they were spoon fed in the RCS press release swallowing their 24% number and adding the word baby for effect.

The number is entirely bogus. The press release itself admits the relevant population increased 16% so the overall extraction rate is only up 7% by my maths. The BBC website story fails to mention the context of the rising population and is essentially fake news with a bit of sugar propaganda attached.

Although the Radio 4 news headlines kept referring to the 24% number the 16% rise in population was only mentioned once or twice in the whole Today programme. No-one on Today managed to do the maths and tell people the real rate rise of 7%.

The Telegraph put the story on its front page today but managed to put the 16% relevant population increase on its front page too along with a much more measured headline:

  • Rise in removals of rotting milk teeth fuelled by children’s sugary diet

The RCS talked about a decade in their press release but only included 9 years rise – you need 11 year’s worth of data to be able to talk about a decade after your base year.

Both the RCS and BBC are proving unreliable here. The Telegraph much better.

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