Prof. Edzard Ernst, a dear friend of Cambridge Skeptics, made an unexpected media appearance earlier this summer, with the Express exclaiming, Prince Charles fury: Scientist’s shock claim royal ‘treated him like dirt’ exposed. Ernst responded to the report with bafflement, as all good scientist are required by tabloids to do, describing it on Twitter as, “out of the blue,” and “very strange.” But, it is in fact a thoroughly explicable exemplar of a disturbing trend in modern media.
The “shocking” report the Express “unearthed” dates back to 2005 when Ernst publicly criticised a study, commissioned by the Prince, calling for complementary and alternative medicine to be included on the NHS. The entire story, as detailed Ernst’s autobiography, was reported by the Guardian in a 2014 pre-publication interview, and then in the Telegraph and the Mail via a PA press release, presumably from Ernst’s publishers.
The story has resurfaced in the Telegraph and the Express in 2018 with the publication of another of Ernst’s books (and another press release?), and in the Telegraph and the Spectator in 2019 with the Prince’s appointment as patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy. This latest re-surfacing is significant only because its timing is seemingly random; apropos of nothing, it, as Prof. Ernst points out, “contains zero new information.”
Churnalism, the use of pre-packaged material for churning out quick and safe stories, is the one-word response to Prof. Ernst’s exclamatory tweet (in capitals and with typos, no less), “I HAVE NO IDEA WHY TH[E]Y PUBLISHED IT!” And while it may be easy to blame this on an apparently lazy journalist the truth is far more systemic. Starved of time and resources, this is what the denizens of the modern newsroom are reduced to, quite against, cunningly bringing us back to this week’s topic, their free will.