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
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
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
One of the best ways to become skilled in reporting on medical research is to immerse yourself in the experience of learning from the experts. That is precisely what two different fellowships offered by AHCJ will provide to applicants selected to participate in early fall.
The AHCJ-National Library of Medicine Health Journalism Fellowship and the AHCJ Fellowship on Comparative Effectiveness, supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, both provide travel expenses (within the U.S.), lodging and a food stipend for a full week of specialized learning. A membership (or renewal) to AHCJ is included as well.
These fellowships – basically immersive, hands-on workshops – are ideal for greenhorns and veterans. If you have never used a medical study to report a story, or if you read a half dozen of them each week, each of these provide an opportunity for you to take your reporting a step further. Continue reading
Last month, we wrote about the back-and-forth between the New England Journal of Medicine and BMJ regarding conflict of interest policies for researchers who write commentaries or review articles. But conflicts of interest can show up in more than one way in covering medical research – including among journalists and journalism outlets themselves.
In a piece at HealthNewsReview.org, veteran health journalist Trudy Lieberman discusses the confusing and “unsavory” partnership between the Mayo Clinic and Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE 11 in Minneapolis, where sports news is delivered from the “Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Sports Desk.” Continue reading
Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr
You’ve been fooled. You thought eating chocolate while dieting could help you shed the pounds faster because a study supposedly said so, and outlets all over the place covered it – but it was based on an intentionally faulty, hyped study.
At least, that’s the story that journalist John Bohannon, who was the first author, partial architect and promoter of the study, told in a viral io9 piece. The story exploded in social media as readers, journalists, scientists, ethicists and others argued over what he really proved, whether he should have done it and what lessons can be gleaned from the stunt. Continue reading
A now-retracted study in the journal Science once again reveals how important it is that journalists find appropriate expert sources to weigh in on findings before publishing stories about them.
The well-publicized paper, co-authored by Columbia researcher Donald Green and UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour, suggested that opponents of same-sex marriage were more likely to change their minds after talking with gay and lesbians canvassers. But, as Retraction Watch reported last week, LaCour faked the data. The journal initially posted an “Editorial Expression of Concern” but officially retracted the paper Thursday. Green had specifically requested the retraction, but LaCour does not agree with it. Continue reading
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