Author Archives: Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

BBC piece on vitamin research a great example of engaging explanatory journalism

Photo: Dean Shareski via Flickr

Photo: Dean Shareski via Flickr

Anyone who has covered medical research for a while knows how fraught it can be to report on vitamin supplements and “wonder” foods with antioxidants and other substances aside from FDA-regulated drugs.

Since the FDA does not regulate these products with the same guidelines and stringency as it does pharmaceuticals and medical devices, it can be harder to find solid data about them. Further, studies on them are frequently funded by supplement companies or food organizations with a vested interest in their effectiveness or benefits. In an additional complication, there’s a mythology surrounding vitamins that promotes two main ideas: the supplements almost always are beneficial, and even if they aren’t, can’t hurt anyway. Continue reading

Should we beware the tyranny of the randomized controlled trial?

Photo: Herald Post via Flickr

Photo: Herald Post via Flickr

The intersection of scientific research, evidence and expertise can be a dicey one, particularly in an age in which evidence-based medicine is replacing the clinical expertise of practitioners.

In The New York Times Sunday Review, Jamie Holmes wrote about how the challenge of assessing the quality of evidence against expertise and less stringently conducted research can lead readers to confusion and frustration. Continue reading

Medical research coverage often contains too few independent, conflict-free comments

Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr

Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr

Just one in every six new stories about medical research contained independent comments from someone besides the study authors — and a quarter of them did not have the relevant clinical or academic expertise to be commenting on the research. Further, just over half of those commenters had relevant conflicts of interest, but only half were reported in the news article. Those are the findings of a sobering, though unsurprising, new study that reveals just how much news consumers suffer from a dearth of high-quality reporting on medical research.

In plainer terms, health journalists need to be doing a better job when reporting on medical research. Continue reading

Writing about abortion? AHCJ has the data you need

Issues surrounding abortion never really leave the news. A reporter could build an entire beat around covering abortion issues and never be without a story from one day to the next.

That said, recently passed or proposed legislation around the country have thrust abortion to the top of the news once again, mainly because their restrictions push against what has been found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court. Continue reading

How susceptibility to placebo effect could change research

Photo: Matt Allworth via Flickr

Photo: Matt Allworth via Flickr

The placebo effect presents quite the conundrum to researchers attempting to discern whether a particular intervention truly offers clinical benefit for patients. Those most susceptible to the effect can feel so much better after a placebo that their “improvement” exceeds that of others taking a chemically active drug.

This problem may slow down the pipeline for new effective drugs, Erik Vance suggests in his recent Washington Post article, “People susceptible to the placebo effect may be keeping us from getting new drugs.” Continue reading