HERE IS an interesting story about an interesting story.
On December 22, the Guardian published a fine example of women-suffer-most journalism by Laurie Penny, who was putting the frighteners on sisters with breast implants -- the PIP “exploding breast” scandal providing her with a hook for the sort of jolly good scare that gladdens the heart of plaintiffs’ lawyers everywhere. She also delivered the obligatory digs at a patriarchal breast fetishism and, inevitably, “contemporary capitalism”, but they were her column’s predictable elements. The most interesting bit was this:
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of British women and countless others are walking around with these potentially dangerous pouches stitched into their chests.
Today, five full days after the column went to press in Britain, our very own Age fired up the photo-copier and re-published the same piece. Well almost the same piece, because the line above saw a slight alteration. In the Age version it reads…
….. tens of thousands of British and Australian women are walking around with these potentially dangerous pouches stitched into their chests.
Read the story quickly, or do so without reminding yourself that it is in the Age and cannot therefore be trusted, and you might very well get the impression that Australia is home to vast numbers of very anxious, very busty shielas, perhaps even “tens of thousands” of them, all needing to be very scared indeed of the threat Penny is relating.
The problem is that, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, only 8,900 Australian women are known to have received the French-made implants. From these the TGA “has received 45 reports relating to PIP implants, 39 of which relate to rupture. It should be noted that the cause of rupture may be due to factors other than the device itself.”
Those 45 complaints represent 0.5% of the installed total, which is actually a rather good record. According to America’s FDA, a typical failure rate for a variety of other manufacturers’ silicon prostheses is 2.5% after three years, although one particular brand came in at a low 0.3%. (for those interested, the figures are summarised here; the links go to the FDA primary sources from which the above figures are drawn). By those American standards, Penny’s quoted rate for the 1,000 of 30,000 French women who are said to have experienced ruptures is barely out of whack with the norm.
The interesting thing about all this has nothing to do with numbers and percentages. Rather, it is that a champion of women’s rights, one who disapproves of implants, is quite happy to scare the daylights out of the same women whose welfare she claims to care so very much about.
And the Age, what can be said of it? First, that the newspaper had the best part of a week in which to investigate the truth or otherwise of what it was about to publish. Second, that it made no such effort. And third, that it actually went to the unnecessary trouble of changing a few key words, presumably in order to whip up a local hysteria.
All in all, a shameful performance.