Ah, the precision of numbers! For editors and journalists alike, the right number can slam a story into high gear, giving it a clear message: this is why you should care.
Reporting the numbers gives a story its footing, and for a good reason. As the queen of the sciences, mathematics pulls the abstract down to the ground, where it can be applied to everyday life. That can include the optimal number of calories we should eat each day, the most effective dose of melatonin that guarantees a good night’s sleep or the time it takes measles to spread among a community with non-immunized children and adults. Math is the language of science, and so without numbers, science would be flimsy, inapplicable. We wouldn’t know the rules or when it’s appropriate to break or bend them. Continue reading
You know those ads on late-night radio or in the back of some magazines for testosterone replacement therapy? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for older men that’s no real path to a male fountain of youth.
Like it or not, low testosterone is a normal part of aging and “fixing” it can be risky. Despite some news reports on the benefits of testosterone replacement therapy, several recent studies show that the harms may outweigh benefits. 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
With thousands of medical studies published every day, it’s impossible to cover even 1 percent of them. When you can only choose a tiny fraction of studies to cover — particularly if you freelance or your editor gives you some autonomy and flexibility in this area — how do you decide whether or not to cover a study?
Reasons can vary: Some people focus on the better known “more prestigious” journals, although that approach has its drawbacks. Continue reading
Just one in every six new stories about medical research contained independent comments from someone besides the study authors — and a quarter of them did not have the relevant clinical or academic expertise to be commenting on the research. Further, just over half of those commenters had relevant conflicts of interest, but only half were reported in the news article. Those are the findings of a sobering, though unsurprising, new study that reveals just how much news consumers suffer from a dearth of high-quality reporting on medical research.
In plainer terms, health journalists need to be doing a better job when reporting on medical research. Continue reading