Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Grant will allow comprehensive tracking of journal retractions

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Adam Marcus

Adam Marcus

Ivan Oransky

Ivan Oransky

A $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation will be used to create a database of retractions from scientific journals, extending the work done by  Adam Marcus and AHCJ Vice President Ivan Oransky on their Retraction Watch blog.

The grant was awarded to the Center for Scientific Integrity, a nonprofit organization set up by Marcus and Oransky. Continue reading

Pucker up: Research into kissing may help with future bacterial therapies

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Dutch researchers have concluded that during a 10-second French kiss, partners exchange an average of 80 million bacteria.

Their study, “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” was recently published in the journal Microbiome.

The researchers conducted their investigation with the help of 21 human couples visiting Amsterdam’s Royal Artis Zoo on a summer day in 2012. They administered a questionnaire on the kissing habits of each partner in each couple and collected samples of tongue and salivary microbiota from each participant before and after a “controlled kissing experiment.” Then they offered a probiotic yogurt drink containing marker bacteria to one of the partners in each couple prior to a second French kiss to quantify the number of bacteria exchanged.

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

The findings suggest that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners. While collective bacteria in saliva were eventually washed out, those on the surface of the tongue were able to find “a true niche, allowing long-term colonization,” the researchers wrote.

“French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time,” lead researcher Remco Kort of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research said in a story published online by the BBC. “But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue.

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New funding will allow HealthNewsReview.org to resume, expand

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Gary Schwitzer

Gary Schwitzer

AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer has announced that the website he publishes, HealthNewsReview.org, has received a two-year grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The site, known for its systematic reviews and ratings of news stories about health care, had been funded since 2005 by the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation but lost its funding July 1, 2013. Continue reading

Taylor’s top 10 tips for covering scientific meetings

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Mark Taylor

Photo: Carla K. JohnsonMark Taylor

How can journalists make the most of their time and energy when covering a scientific or professional conference?

Mark Taylor has covered more than a few scientific conferences in his two decades as a health care journalist. While he says that doesn’t qualify him as an expert, he does admit that “over the years I’ve painfully acquired a few tips for how to successfully cover such massive events.”

Most recently, he attended the annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (as a GSA Journalism in Aging Fellow), which featured more than 500 presentations, symposia and poster sessions.

Following that meeting, Taylor shared his top 10 tips for efficiently covering scientific conferences. Find out what they are and then come back here to  add your tips in the comments.

How does food labeling affect consumer choice?

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

If you’ve ever wondered about the real impact of those little black-and-white nutrition labels, or felt that perhaps food labeling could be more meaningful, consider the results of a new study, published recently in The American Journal of Public Health.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to know what makes people change their habits – specifically, low-income black adolescents. In 2012 – the most recent year of CDC data – obesity was more prevalent among both African-Americans and low-income groups than the general population. (But remember that the relationship between income and obesity varies by poverty level, gender and race is a complicated one.)

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Senators push for research into prostate cancer

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer

Two U.S. senators have proposed a bill to support research into prostate cancer, calling for “a national strategy to combat prostate cancer.”

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have introduced the National Prostate Cancer Council Act, which would establish a body made up of federal agencies, patients, and medical experts. It would coordinate prostate cancer research and services across all federal agencies.

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

In a press release announcing the legislation, Sessions said, “Testing and early detection are the keys to combat this disease. When identified early, the survival rate for prostate cancer is very high. We need to ensure that we have the most advanced screening tools available and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,480 deaths in the U.S. this year. Continue reading

Blaming moms: How miscommunication on epigenetics is a threat to women’s health

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Photo by mahalie stackpole via Flickr.

Photo by mahalie stackpole via Flickr.

Laura Pemberton was in labor and ready to give birth at her home in Florida when a sheriff arrived at her door, took her into custody, strapped her legs together, and forced her to go to Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center, where doctors had instigated urgent court proceedings.

They claimed that Pemberton was risking the life of her unborn child by attempting to have a vaginal birth after having had a previous cesarean surgery. The judge ordered the woman to undergo the operation, which she did against her will later that day in 1996.

Regina McKnight, 21 years old and pregnant, suffered a stillbirth that led to her arrest and conviction on homicide charges in South Carolina in 2001. Although the stillbirth later proved to be the result of an infection, prosecutors argued that McKnight caused the stillbirth because she used cocaine. A jury found her guilty after 15 minutes of deliberation and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Pregnant with her second child in 2005, 20-year-old Rachael Lowe went with her husband to a hospital to get help for her addiction to Oxycontin. An emergency room doctor reported her to Wisconsin state officials and Lowe wound up confined against her will in a psychiatric ward, where she received no prenatal care. She remained incarcerated for more than 25 days before a doctor testified that Lowe’s addiction posed no significant risk to the health of the fetus and a judge ordered her release.

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Clearing the air on a WHO study

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Last week, I encountered yet another example of why it’s so important to always read the whole study — not just the press release. In this case, it was actually a report, not a study. A press release from Alzheimer’s International with the somewhat misleading headline, “Smoking Increases Risk Of Dementia” arrived in my inbox, citing a new World Health Organization report that put smokers at a 45 percent higher risk for developing the disease than non-smokers.

When I opened the report, I learned that the “news” touted in the press release was actually just a summary of old research. There was nothing new here. Nor was there proof of causation – the cited evidence showed associations.

As I looked more closely at the report, I found an error that appeared to undermine its conclusions and suggest a sloppiness and lack of rigor.

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Ore. reporter uses data to expose the risks of home births

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Markian Hawryluk

Markian Hawryluk

While beauticians and tattoo artists are regulated in the state of Oregon, midwife certification is voluntary and, even then, the hurdles for certification are rather minimal.

But with midwives largely operating outside of the established health care system, there was little more than anecdotal evidence about the safety of home births to go on. That changed last year.

Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin and an AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow, describes how he took advantage of new data collected by the state of Oregon to shape an article that revealed high mortality rates for home births in his state.

“If home birth were a drug,” he wrote, “it would be taken off the market.”

Read more about how he reported the story and get links to resources he used.

What reporters need to know about side effects and drug studies

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Image by AJ Cann via flickr.

Image by AJ Cann via flickr.

Recently, Dr. Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre), a prominent critic of drug studies, wanted to find out how often side effects reported by users of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins were genuinely caused by the medications.

The study he co-authored concluded that most reported side effects of statins aren’t often due to the drugs themselves, but to other causes. The study generated front-page headlines in the U.K., with an article in The Telegraph declaring, “Statins have virtually no side effects, study finds.”

Outcry ensued. Patients who experienced side effects on statins begged to differ, and Goldacre’s fans wondered if he had suddenly gone soft on pharmaceutical companies.

In response, Goldacre penned a nuanced explanation of the study findings, explaining* that its conclusions were flawed because it was based on incomplete data.

The statin study controversy aside, his blog post makes some key points about how side effects are reported in medical journals that are helpful for health reporters to keep in mind when covering the downsides of new drugs. I’ve boiled some important points down and included them in this tip sheet for AHCJ members.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post used the word “admitting.”