Few areas of medical research are as challenging to study as nutrition. Randomized controlled nutrition trials are very difficult to conduct, and individual variation among participants can be much greater than in other areas. Add to that the urgency of the “obesity epidemic” and the multibillion dollar industry of diets, supplements and other weight-loss schemes, and it becomes clear how competing ideologies make it tough to parse the evidence. Continue reading
One of the most popular and longest-running workshop sessions will return to AHCJ’s annual conference in Silicon Valley with an updated presentation that will benefit research reporting veterans as well as those new to – and possibly intimidated by – reporting on medical studies.
In Thursday morning’s session, “How to accurately report on medical research findings,” presenters Ivan Oransky, M.D., vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, and Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, will offer a boot camp on medical study coverage. Instruction will range from evaluating the quality of study findings and discussing benefits and harms to responsibly framing findings in news articles and finding appropriate outside commentary on tight deadlines.
“There are never enough opportunities to be trained in or to get a refresher course in how to evaluate studies and evidence,” said Schwitzer, now in his ninth year of presenting this type of workshop at the conference. “I can almost guarantee you’ll get some new, practical, hands-on tools, tips and resources to help you do a better job reporting studies – and some healthy skepticism,” he said. Continue reading
The abundance of data available through PubMed, ClinicalTrials.gov and other National Library of Medicine resources can be overwhelming, especially if you are just learning to dig into medical studies.
But if you stick around for Sunday morning’s sessions at Health Journalism 2015 in Silicon Valley, you can join Robert Logan, Ph.D., a communication scientist at the National Library of Medicine, and Ivan Oransky, M.D., vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, as they guide you through these sites and show you how to find and use the information you need for your story – or even to find stories.
“MedlinePlus.gov is a gateway to all NLM websites and it is written for patients, the public, and the press,” Logan explained. “Once comfortable with MedlinePlus.gov, health reporters also gain curated access to many of National Library of Medicine’s health information services that are used by medical professionals and scientists.” Then Oransky, who is vice president of AHCJ’s board of directors, will show you how to use what you find in your reporting.
Even if you have attended this Sunday morning session before, Logan and Oransky have updated the presentation to help you take advantage of new features in these sites. “For example, PubMed Health, a rich resource of systematic reviews, has been redesigned and is easier to use,” Logan said. “PubMed Commons is expanding and increasingly provides a place to find critics of (and sources about) current medical research studies.”
Another new feature includes commenting from approved researchers on the PubMed site. “Members will learn how to tap into active conversations among researchers about one another’s work,” Oransky said. “We’ll make finding context, and the right outside sources, super-easy.”
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
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.
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.”
Health Equity Resources is an impressively thorough roundup of the latest news, research, and events related to health disparities and the social determinants of health. It’s curated and delivered by email twice a month by Carly Hood, a population health service fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.
What follows is just a sampling of the latest installment – the full version is nine pages and available here, along with past issues. If you’d like to join the list, send an email to Hood at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cm_hood. Continue reading
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.
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.
The military uses the phrase “the fog of war” to describe the miscalculations and botched decisions that get made in the heat of combat.
But you need not sign up for active duty to run into foggy thinking. Just call a scientist and interview them about their own research.
One of my favorite examples of this is when researchers conduct observational studies that can’t show cause and effect, yet interpret their findings to reporters as if they do. Continue reading
Recently, an editor sent me a study to cover on concussions in teenagers. At least, that’s what we thought the research was about, based on the title of its press release: “Teenagers who have had a concussion also have higher rates of suicide attempts.”
And I was excited to cover the study. Like gut bacteria and anything to do with chocolate or coffee or stem cells, concussion is a hot topic right now. That’s partly because brain scientists are just beginning to understand the lasting impacts of these sometimes subtle but probably cumulative injuries.
And they affect everybody from pro athletes to pee wee football players. So when parents and coaches see the word “concussion,” their thoughts rightfully turn to young athletes. About half of concussions in kids ages 8 to 19 are sports-related, according to a nationwide study of concussions published in 2010 in the journal Pediatrics.
The press release said the study found that kids who have had concussions were not only more likely to try to commit suicide, but to engage in other sorts of high-risk behaviors like taking drugs, stealing cars, setting fires and bullying.
The message here is that a kid who gets hit in the head too many times – presumably playing sports – might turn to drug abuse, self-injury and other sorts of criminal behaviors. And that’s the way it was covered in the press. Continue reading
When first diagnosed with breast cancer, journalist Karen D. Brown didn’t plan to write about it. But, as she met with surgeons, anesthesiologists and oncologists who presented her with treatment options, she found it was a lot more confusing than she had realized when reporting on the statistics.
All of a sudden I realized that my medical odyssey and the health news cycle had crossed orbits. I could write about my personal experience and also shed light on a bigger issue that I felt had not yet been told to death – namely, how hard it is for an individual to make decisions based on population-wide statistics, and politically loaded ones at that.
In this article for AHCJ, Brown tells us how she came to write a piece that appeared in The Boston Globe about the conflicts between statistics and emotions and how they affected her decisions.
She writes about how she chose the statistics that she included in her story, what information she did not include to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in her future reporting and how she made sure her narrative was fair and accurate. Read about Brown’s experience.