Author Archives: Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

How I Did It: Marilynn Marchione concludes an impressive career in medical writing

Marilynn Marchione

Marilynn Marchione was the Associated Press’s chief medical writer for the last 10 years of her long career in journalism.

Deciding to retire this year was not easy because she loved her job and rarely woke up thinking, “How long till I don’t have to do this anymore?” The pandemic delayed her plans for more than a year because she didn’t want to miss the chance to report an important story and because it didn’t feel right to leave the job at a time of such enormous need.

Marchione took time out of her busy schedule recently — between relaxing on the beach and reading a good book — to share what she learned over her long career of covering medical research. From emphasizing the substantial responsibility of health journalists to get their reporting right, to discussing what she’s learned from her mistakes, to highlighting what chops are needed to report on medical research well, her wisdom is like a 10-minute master class on what it takes to be an accurate, thoughtful, responsible, and incisive medical reporter. Continue reading

Science center’s principles offer guidance to reporters covering complicated COVID-19 issues

Infographic from Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Click to enlarge.

While most AHCJ members have been writing about health for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly turned nearly every other reporter in the country into a health reporter, at least for a time. Even those who don’t directly report on the pandemic likely cannot report on their regular beat without the pandemic affecting it in some way or another.

Those who have been able to stick to the beats they know best, such as business, entertainment, or sports, have not needed to worry as much about quickly boning up on science for the first time since high school or college. But many other reporters, particularly general assignment reporters, have found themselves reporting on vaccines, epidemiology, infectious disease, health disparities, health policy, vaccine hesitancy, and a host of related topics for which they lack specialized training or experience. Sometimes, that has been a big problem. At times, they’ve gotten the science wrong, inadvertently mischaracterized a concept, or unwittingly conveyed or emphasized the wrong message. Continue reading

Wednesday NIH webinar on women and alcohol highlights obscured problem

While recent headlines have pointed out the disastrous rise in opioid use during the pandemic, less attention has focused on alcohol consumption during the pandemic and relapses among those with alcohol use disorder. Even more under-recognized is the prevalence and burden of alcohol use disorder among women, who too often aren’t included in discussions about the condition.

Yet research from the National Institutes of Health shows that the gender gap between men’s and women’s alcohol consumption is narrowing — and that’s not a good thing. Higher levels of alcohol consumption had already been on the rise in older adults and particularly in women prior to 2020, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this health issue. Continue reading

Tips on picking good photos for vaccine stories

MTA worker getting vaccinated

Photo: NY State MTA via Flickr

Those who have known me long enough have, at some point or another, heard one of my diatribes about poorly chosen vaccine photos in the media. These photos often feature screaming babies, wincing mothers, giant needles (usually medically inaccurate) and similarly negative images that can undermine public health. While it’s not a journalist’s job to promote public health per se, we certainly need to avoid undermining it. Continue reading

How well do clinical studies take sex and gender differences into account?

Silhouette of a couple walking

Photo: meltwater via Flickr

The history of inequity in medical studies is long and harrowing, and it continues today. But at least today, there is more awareness of the history and the present-day problems that persist. For example, the Endocrine Society recently released a scientific statement demanding more research into sex differences for the sake of public health.

The fact that males and females — not to mention individuals who do not identify as either binary category — do not respond the same way to different diseases, drugs and other interventions has been a relatively new development in the history of clinical trials. As recently as 1977, women of childbearing age were explicitly excluded by the FDA from phase 1 and 2 drug trials. In practice, that often extended to phase 3 trials and other types of studies for various reasons. Continue reading