Author Archives: Tara Haelle

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.

Could financial conflicts be influencing cancer care guidelines?

Photo: Hloom Templates via Flickr

Physicians in all fields of medicine rely on guidelines developed by professional medical organizations to inform how they care for patients. These guidelines, whether defining what counts as hypertension or laying out how best to care for pregnant women, constitute the standard of care in that particular field. To call them influential is a huge understatement.

Since most of these guidelines discuss treatments, it’s reasonable to pay attention to whether those writing the guidelines might have a bias for or against a particular treatment that’s not based on evidence. It’s impossible to be certain of this for all guideline authors, but ensuring they aren’t receiving big checks from industry is one way to guard against bias. Continue reading

Spin happens: How we cover medical studies affects readers’ attitude toward results

How much does the way you cover a study matter? If we judge that question on the basis of how your coverage might influence a reader’s opinion about a treatment’s benefit, it matters quite a bit, suggest the results of a recent study in BMC Medicine that examined spin in news stories about clinical studies.

In short, news articles that included spin in their coverage of a study about a particular treatment were more likely to leave readers with a positive impression of the treatment’s benefit.

Continue reading

New tip sheet, resources on effect sizes help quantify clinical significance

Photo: Esther Dyson via Flickr

To effectively report on medical research, you should understand how big a difference that an intervention or an exposure makes.

Absolute risk can be the best for this, but many studies report other comparisons as well. Sometimes a study reports this effect size — the magnitude of difference between two groups — in terms that literally are Greek to me: Continue reading

Tip sheet on organoids can help journalists avoid misleading hype

BRAINS!!! What zombie wouldn’t be thrilled to hear scientists are growing brains in Petri dishes? It’s like a zombie’s dream come true! Except, like zombies, brains grown in a Petri dish don’t actually exist. What some scientists are doing is growing brain organoids in Petri dishes — and the difference is crucial.

Organoids are most easily described as not-quite-organs. They’re “simplified replicas” of a specific organ “with some of the features of the organ they model,” according to Chloe Reichel, whose tip sheet on organoids at Journalist’s Resource can help journalists avoid the pitfall of misrepresenting or overselling research on growing these tissues. Continue reading

Self, AAP collaborate on library of vaccine images for free use

Photo: Self Magazine via Flickr

Photos accompanying news stories about vaccines are notoriously awful, both in effect and in verisimilitude. They often feature large needles that have little resemblance to the actual needles used to administer immunizations.

Or they are real images but feature an utterly terrified child screaming as though Satan himself were injecting demon blood into their veins. (Note: Most vaccines are administered into the muscle, not the bloodstream.) Continue reading

Leading medical journal commits to greater diversity. Will others follow?

One of the oldest and most influential medical journals in the world is The Lancet. Based in the UK, the Lancet Group publishes 18 journals and remains a leader across all nearly medical fields. So the publisher’s recently announced commitment to greater diversity in its publications and panels is no small thing.

Six months after publishing a special-themed issue on women and research that noted the systemic gender bias in science, the Lancet Group has announced its promise to walk the walk with a Diversity Pledge and No All-Male Panel Policy. (Disclosure: I reported on the Lancet Group’s announcement for MDEdge.) Continue reading