Health reporting and one researcher’s pet peeves

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Dorothy Bishop, neuropsychology professor and occasional science/academics blogger (bio), ruminates on what she calls the “uneasy alliance” between science and journalism. She starts with the concession that, as Retraction Watch readers may have noticed, scientists make mistakes too. Given that, she narrows her focus.

According to Bishop, “scientists tend to get cross about misleading reporting” for good reason:

…it is not just down to human error. The errors aren’t random: they fall in a particular pattern suggesting that pressure to produce good stories leads to systematic distortion, in a distinctly Orwellian fashion.

That pattern, she writes, manifests itself in three specific sorts of errors:

  • Propaganda: “Deliberate distortion or manipulation of facts to support the editor’s policy.”
  • Hype: “a bending of (research) conclusions to fit journalistic interests, typically by focusing more on future implications of a study rather than its actual findings.”
  • Omission: “Papers go overboard for a story on a particular topic, but totally ignore other research in the same area.”

It’s an even-handed piece, though it suffers from a bit of overgeneralization.

Some may remember Bishop as founder of the clumsily named “Orwellian prize for journalistic misrepresentation,” which uses a scoring system to rate weaknesses in news stories. As these things go, it’s more fantasy football than it is Health News Review.

1 thought on “Health reporting and one researcher’s pet peeves

  1. Gary Schwitzer

    Andrew,

    Good line re: fantasy football!

    Gee, when can we start picking our team? (Or, in this case, making cuts from the squad?)

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher
    HealthNewsReview.org

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