How many times have you wanted to make a comparison between two numbers — a local rate and national rate, or some kind of rate for one type of surgery vs another, or one demographic group vs another … but you didn’t have the comparison statistics you needed?
What did you do? Did you write around the issue and choose a different angle or framing? Did you cobble together the number you needed from different sources? Did you use a similar number but include qualifications about limitations of the comparison? Continue reading
Journalists are in love with reporting new findings about a disease and a particular risk factor, but they are not so keen on following what happens later and reporting on whether the finding was replicated – and just over half the time is later disproved.
This comes from a recent study in PLOS ONE by authors who previously found that journalists tend to favor initial findings over subsequent findings on the same outcome. Continue reading
Veteran health care journalist Trudy Lieberman says that she’s long observed that U.S. health reporters are reluctant to reach out globally to inform their reporting.
She points out that the health stories we’re asked to report are the same ones our counterparts abroad are writing and that this “reportorial parochialism results in poor understanding of foreign health care and makes it easy to report misleading or false claims because we have no knowledge to judge their correctness or to give context so audiences can judge for themselves.” Continue reading
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a bombshell alcohol recommendation to women on Feb. 2 that led to an explosion of responses. I was among those who commented on the fray, and I primarily addressed how the evidence itself about alcohol and pregnancy was obscured by the resulting backlash.
I also mentioned that I had previously interpreted the evidence differently over several years of covering periodic studies about light drinking and pregnancy. I didn’t go into a great deal of detail, however, on how I made that switch, and I thought that process might be instructive for other health journalists covering such controversial issues in which the science can be confusing. Writing about risk, in particular, can be incredibly thorny. Continue reading
With no new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since July 2, the outbreak appears to have ended. Commentaries such as a recent Nature editorial are assessing the damage and the response – and the damage of the response.
In total, 186 people became sick with the virus and 36 died. Yet the response to the virus in South Korea shared something in common with the response to Ebola in the United States during the West African outbreak last year: It was over the top, largely because public officials have yet to master adequate risk communication. 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