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Friday 18 April 2008

Postscript: Search and suicide

Following my quite stroppy contact with the British Medical Journal (BMJ)'s Editor, my response has finally been published with one element removed because "it is damning the research in an unverifiable way".
It is notable that in a comment on my blog ( Graham Jones who runs the Internet Psychology web site said that he'd met some people who were connected to the research and "they were suitably embarrassed in private when I pointed out the simple flaws in the research".
I'm told that it took so long because they needed to check every single line "as we are liable for anything posted on our website". That paragraph is certainly unverifiable by them, unless they contact Graham, but it's also the sort of thing which might well upset the privately embarrassed.

Because I could only give them text without links, this means that the Letters Editor must have either had to go back and figure everything out from scratch or - more likely - get something of an education in this area from following the links on my blog.

All in all, quite satisfying.

Now let's see what, if anything, the BBC says from my complaint and the lead researcher from my letter ... I've had no response from my help offer to the charity Sane ...

Postscript: More responses are now appearing in the BMJ. I particularly like this one from a student at Otago Uni in New Zealand:
The selection of terms in this study did not include 'prevention', 'help', 'assistance', 'counselling' and were designed to return the sites they retrieved. Search engines ("web dragons") need skillful handling.
I wasn't at all sure what he meant but Web Dragons comes from a book of the same name, by Ian Witten, who's a New Zealand professor.

More seriously, a researcher from The University of Hong Kong reports his suspicions that users search for particular methods:
For instance, carbon monoxide poisoning by burning charcoal has been portrayed by the mass media in Hong Kong as an easy, painless and effective means of ending one's life since 1998.
Methods are described in the local media - something the UK media is not supposed to do - then people search for them. He concludes:
In view of the global nature of Internet, it seems logical that a global effort is needed to contain the negative effect of Internet on suicides.

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