Too often, we journalists set aside our critical reasoning skills when it comes to alarming statistics about patient safety.
Like many reporters, I have developed several niches in my reporting within medical research. I most often write about pediatrics, women’s health, mental health, vaccines, public health (including gun violence) and, increasingly, health disparities or related social justice aspects of health and medicine.
Because I try to include links throughout my writing to back up the figures I use to provide context on a topic, I would frequently find myself looking up the same data again and again. For topics like vaccines, it usually wasn’t too difficult to find studies or statistics I had previously cited. They were generally easy to find on the CDC website, or I could remember a couple key articles I’d written where I linked to the majority of the figures I might want to link to again. Continue reading
At the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting last fall, I attended a talk by Kevin Powell, M.D., Ph.D., called “Evidence-Based Medicine in a World of Post-Truth and Alternative Facts.”
Despite the title’s allusions, however, the talk did not discuss problems in communicating science or medical findings in today’s media ecosystem. Rather, Powell argued that many of the problems we see in today’s problematic reporting and “fake news” have long existed in medical research — but there are ways to address those problems. Continue reading
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
Recently I wrote about the need to check citations when covering a study that triggers mental alarm bells, such as a statistic that strains belief. That post focused on a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine that frequently had been cited as evidence that opioids aren’t very addictive.
A few weeks later, a similar issue undermined the credibility of dozens (or more) publications on a far more divisive topic — gun violence.