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.

P-hacking, self-plagiarism concerns plague news-friendly nutrition lab

Photo: Dominic Rooney via Flickr

Some of the most difficult research to make sense of comes from nutrition science. It is difficult, expensive and labor-intensive to conduct randomized controlled trials in nutrition, in part because they require randomizing what people eat and then ensuring they eat what they’re supposed to – no more and no less.

Even when such trials are finished (often at in-patient labs), the populations are usually small and somewhat homogenous, thus reducing the generalizability and overall clinical utility of results. Continue reading

Tip sheet series to focus on red flags to look for in medical studies

With thousands of medical studies published every day, it’s impossible to cover even 1 percent of them. When you can only choose a tiny fraction of studies to cover — particularly if you freelance or your editor gives you some autonomy and flexibility in this area — how do you decide whether or not to cover a study?

Reasons can vary: Some people focus on the better known “more prestigious” journals, although that approach has its drawbacks. Continue reading

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