Hiding the truth in plain sight

17 November 2015 | Sam Ashworth-Hayes

This is probably our favourite film poster this year. Not because we like the film (as a group, we're pretty indifferent to crime movies), and not because we like the cast (we're also pretty indifferent to Tom Hardy), but for the way it hides the truth in plain sight.

Four and five star reviews are plastered all over the surface. There are four stars from MTV, partially obscured by two Tom Hardys, and there are two stars from the Guardian, with a strong implication that there are two more Guardian-granted stars lurking behind the brooding star.


There aren't. The Guardian gave this film two stars, and by placing that fact in plain sight, the designers of the poster managed, in the reviewer’s own words, the difficult task of “making my two star review seem like I didn't hate the film".

“Maddeningly brilliant” indeed.

There are other ways of hinting that you’ve received more support than you actually have

Earlier this year, the Department of Health published a list of academic papers investigating the 'weekend effect' in the NHS; patients appear to fare worse when they enter hospitals on Saturdays and Sundays.

One particular paper is listed as follows: “Increased mortality associated with weekend hospital admission: a case for expanded 7 day services”, which sounds like evidence backing the government's drive to introduce a “7-day NHS”.

Except all is not quite as it seems. The title of the paper as published in the British Medical Journal was “Increased mortality associated with weekend hospital admission: a case for expanded 7 day services?”.

Stripped of its concluding question mark, the paper’s title seems less like an inquiry into the justification for a policy, and more like an outright statement of support.

As it happens, while the paper found that 11,000 more people died within 30 days of admission to hospitals on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (compared to the remaining three days of the week), it also said that

“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading”.

As our lead health writer pointed out at the time,

“the research doesn’t support the idea that understaffed hospitals are to blame for 11,000 deaths. The researchers did say the deaths raise  'challenging questions about reduced service provision at weekends’, but those questions needn’t just be about hospital staffing. Community care services are often shut or reduced at the weekends, for instance.”

The lesson, as ever, is that it's best to check the primary sources. We've written to Jeremy Hunt asking him to correct his claim that the 11,000 deaths occur “because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends”.

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