As the race toward the 2016 election gradually takes over more and more media coverage, Americans’ attention will be pulled toward the issues that dominate the election.
In some cases, unexpected issues will take center stage, if briefly, following a campaign trail speech or an organized debate. And sometimes, these issues will have a connection to medical research, so journalists need to be ready. Continue reading
In the age of big data and large datasets available through the CDC, the NIH, and other entities, it helps to know what to do with all that information. One tool for manipulating it – especially since so much is provided in CSV files that easily open in spreadsheets – is Excel.
Consider, for example, data on vaccinations from the National Immunization Survey. The CDC has downloadable data sets going back for nearly two decades. A journalist might want to look for trends in that data, such as changes in coverage in a particular state or changes in uptake for particular vaccines. But once you get all that data downloaded, what do you do with it to look for those trends, especially if you don’t know much about Excel? Continue reading
Many American consumers may not realize this, but only New Zealand and the United States are the only countries with strong pharmaceutical regulations in which direct-to-consumer advertising from pharma companies is allowed.
All those TV commercials and double-spread ads for prescription drugs – whether it’s for erectile dysfunction drugs or mental disorders or high blood pressure or some chronic condition – are missing from the media in most of the world.
The way such ads look and sound (including the usual mind-numbing text block tucked into a print ad detailing risks and potential side effects, or a hastily spoken voice-over toward the end of a commercial), may soon change. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revising regulations governing how companies communicate risk to consumers. Continue reading
An utterly fantastic long read by Christie Aschwanden at FiveThirtyEight.com, cuts to the chase very early: “Science is hard – really f***ing hard.”
Aschwanden’s piece – which ought to be required reading for every health journalist (and probably every news consumer, too) – aims to convey just how challenging it is to get reliable findings through scientific research and all the ways that science, despite our best efforts, is ultimately a human enterprise subject to human failings.
“If we’re going to rely on science as a means for reaching the truth – and it’s still the best tool we have – it’s important that we understand and respect just how difficult it is to get a rigorous result,” she writes. And of course, this reality is part of what makes responsible and thorough reporting on medical research such a challenge at times. Continue reading
If it seems the newest studies are always reporting some new link – an association between two things or an increase or decrease in this, that or the other – it’s not your imagination.
Positive findings, those which find … “something,” tend to end up in journals more often. But a recent study in PLOS ONE suggests that this trend has decreased, thanks to a change in trial reporting standards around the year 2000. Continue reading
If you want to get a better grasp on the intricacies of screenings and assessing their risk-benefit analysis, there’s now another option to reading about it. The inaugural episode of a new podcast series at HealthNewsReview.org features Hanna Bloomfield, M.D., M.P.H., sounding off on the problem of blanket promotion of cardiovascular screening and similar medical tests. Continue reading
White papers can be useful tools for journalists. Ideally, they provide authoritative, in-depth information from government or nonprofits about specific policy, diseases, programs, or issues. However, they can also be powerful marketing tools, used by corporations to position a specific product or service as the “solution” to whatever the “problem” is.
Then there is the white paper released by a nonprofit, but developed with corporate financial support. Continue reading
With no new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since July 2, the outbreak appears to have ended. Commentaries such as a recent Nature editorial are assessing the damage and the response – and the damage of the response.
In total, 186 people became sick with the virus and 36 died. Yet the response to the virus in South Korea shared something in common with the response to Ebola in the United States during the West African outbreak last year: It was over the top, largely because public officials have yet to master adequate risk communication. Continue reading
Previously, Covering Health has addressed two kinds of potential conflicts of interest that health journalists should watch out for: those of journal article authors and those related to sponsors of journalist trips or other training opportunities.
For freelancers, there’s yet another COI maze to navigate: ensuring that work for one client doesn’t create a conflict for another, present or future.
This sounds simple enough: Don’t cover the same research for two competitors, for example. But in today’s freelance ecosystem, avoiding these conflicts has become more complex, especially with the various types of clients freelancers might have. Continue reading
A recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association explored the responsibility that journals have to public health in reporting on the association – or lack thereof – between adverse events and different drugs, devices or vaccines.
Reporting on these kinds of studies is a mainstay for most regular health beat reporters: Every week a new study says that this drug may increase the risk of that condition, or that this device is no longer thought to increase the risk of some other condition.
While the editorial points out the journal’s responsibility in publishing these studies, so that doctors can discuss risks of treatment possibilities with their patients, what is a journalist’s responsibility on reporting these findings? And how do journalists avoid fatigue – and help their readers avoid fatigue – with findings that regularly contradict each other (eggs and heart disease, anyone?) or that have been reported dozens of times already but never go away (e.g., vaccines not causing autism)? Continue reading