Birmingham Mail jumps on Syphilis bandwagon

25 03 2010

Oh dear.

Heard via Twitter that my local paper, the Birmingham Mail, had added a local spin on the Syphilis story [edit 26/3: story removed following request from Birmingham University] we are all watching with bated breath. In it, was information from an outreach officer at Birmingham. This time, it was one teensy, seeminlg innocuous statement which raised a few questions:

“In Birmingham, Ms Hyland said a 2,000 per cent increase in reports of syphilis had been logged in 2007, according to figures from the Heartlands Clinic.”

Now, not one to let things like this slip by, I dropped My Hyland an email. I had an incredibly swift response from her.

It seems she had nothing to do with the figures reported, and is trying to contact the paper and clarify the situation at the moment. She said she was upset by it all, and said that “I never said I was an expert and the figures are nowhere near what have been published! Figures can be obtained from the Health Protection Agency, and the rise of syphilis is nowhere near that of say, herpes or warts. ”

She let me know that she had been told by a masters student who had worked in a Birmingham GU clinic that ” there was a massive increase in syphilis and that babies were being born with the condition, that the disease was becoming resistant to antibiotics so their figures may well be above average the UK average.”

So where did the data come from? A two thousand percent increase is surly not just plucked from thin air…?

Update (14.55.):: Just heard the following from Ms Hyland “I (julia hyland) did not claim to be an expert in this field and the figures quoted did not come from me, I have called the Evening Mail they told me their figures came from Heartlands.”




12 responses

25 03 2010
uberVU - social comments

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by bengoldacre: Whither the Birmingham syphilis facebook figures?: a clearheaded medical student digs

25 03 2010
Patrick Redmond

Excellent blog post, its so depressing when people let a good story get in the way of proper research and the truth. You might enjoy some of the talks we have coming up since you are based in Birmingham, it would be good to see you. Give us a shout on Twitter if you’re interested @Brum_Skeptics.

25 03 2010
Nick Harding

I think the 2000% rise comes from:

“Health experts are warning of a worrying increase in infectious syphilis across Birmingham. Cases of this sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosed in Birmingham Sexual Health Clinics have increased twenty fold (a 1887% rise) in recent years: from only 8 cases in 2000, to 159 in 2005. ”

Statistics apear to have come from someone called Dr Penny Goold.

Cached page at:

25 03 2010

Thanks Nick, good find!
Hoping to do a follow up post in the next couple of days.

25 03 2010

‘Bated’ breath, not ‘baited’ – trust me. Diminished, restrained breath, not breath sprinkled with raisins to catch thick mice.

But v well done for digging. It’s harder to get away with waving daft numbers around in evil / slack way than it was, and you get a biscuit for helping to make it so.

All the best,

25 03 2010

*accepts biscuit*
Thanks, have corrected spelling. Learn something new every day 🙂

25 03 2010

You could have syphilis bandwagon in med school rag parade. People in spirochaete costumes playing trad jazz on back of lorry.

David (again)

26 03 2010

The story you quote appears to have disappeared from their site. Following your link takes you to the front page, searching brings up the story, but again clicking on the search result takes you back to their front page.
Looks like you and Ms Hyland have embarrassed them enough for them to take it down.
Wonder if they’ll publish a correction? I don’t think I’ll hold my breath!

26 03 2010

Yes, heard they were going to yesterday – at least now it’s happened!
Hoping to post a follow up over the coming days, so keep an eye out!

26 03 2010

The aforementioned Ms Hyland’s a friend of mine and it seems she’s been royally dropped in it by the Mail’s desperation to get a local spin – she’s a make-up expert who has specialised in recreating diseases for B/ham Uni… and that’s about it. Poor Julia – thank goodness the Mail’s removed the story from their site. An official retraction and apology might be nice though? Sometimes I’m embarrassed to have ever been a journalist – usually on days newspapers get published.

26 03 2010

Indeed – I have been looking at some of the work she does, it’s incredible, isn’t it?!
Glad it at least appears to be being rectified!
Thanks for your comments, hoping to post an update over the next day or 2!
J x

26 03 2010
Friday Foolery #21 – Syphilis by Facebook « Laika’s MedLibLog

[…] Syphilis story (login required) which according to the medical student of  The magic of medicine contained information of an outreach officer at Birmingham, Ms Hyland, who said that according to figures from the Heartlands […]

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