Grasping and even celebrating uncertainty ( How Journalists Can Aid Critical Thinking in Healthcare Decisions) With Resources By Yours Truly
As you regular followers of this blog realize, I champion critical thinking and hope at least some of these blog posts have fostered this approach to selecting what is best for one’s health.
Many of my posts caution against quick fixes, be it fad diets, supplement dependence, or use of potentially harmful complementary medicine substances. To be fair, I have also posted items questioning “Western medicine” practices as when robotic surgery is appropriate.
Gary Schwitzer at HealthNewsReview.org has posted yet another item on how journalists can help us all in healthcare decisions..
Marya Zilberberg posted, “Fast science: No time for uncertainty.” Excerpt:
“…my anxiety about how we do clinical science overall is not new; this blog is overrun with it. However, the new branch of that anxiety relates to something I have termed “fast science.” Like fast food it fills us up, but the calories are at best empty and at worst detrimental. What I mean is that science is a process more than it is a result, and this process cannot and should not be microwaved….
So, let’s celebrate uncertainty. Let’s take time to question, answer and question again. Slow down, take a deep breath, cook a slow meal and think.”
That’s similar to how I ended my talk at the University of Wisconsin’s event, “Science Writing in the Age of Denial” this week. I said that:
“Journalists could help people grasp uncertainty and help them apply critical thinking to health care decision-making issues…rather than promote false certainty, shibboleths and non-evidence-based, cheerleading advocacy.”
- The Penn State Medical Center Library has a great guide to evaluate health information on the Internet.
The tips include
- Remember, anyone can publish information on the internet!
- If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If the Web site is primarily about selling a product, the information may be worth checking from another source.
- Look for who is publishing the information and their education, credentials, and if they are connected with a trusted coporation, university or agency.
- Check to see how current the information is.
- Check for accuracy. Does the Web site refer to specific studies or organizations?
- The Family Caregiver Alliance has a Web page entitled Evaluating Medical Research Findings and Clinical Trials
- General Guidelines for Evaluating Medical Research
- Getting Information from the Web
- Talking with your Health Care Provider
- Consumer’s Guide to Taking Charge of Health Information (Harvard Center for Risk Analysis)
- How to Evaluate Health Information on the Internet (US National Cancer Institute)9iiu9
- Quackwatch (a private corporation operated by Stephen Barrett, MD)
What the ‘limits of DNA’ story reveals about the challenges of science journalism in the ‘big data’ age
This journalist ends her post by acknowledging that the medical news readership often bases their decisions on medical and science news articles. She and others strive to report based on sound science, despite current obstacles.
As a science journalist, I sympathize with book reviewers who wrestle with the question of whether to write negative reviews. It seems a waste of time to write about a dog of a book when there are so many other worthy ones; but readers deserve to know if Oprah is touting a real stinker.
On 2 April, Science Translational Medicine published a study on DNA’s shortcomings in predicting disease. My editors and I had decided not to cover the study last week after we saw it in the journal’s embargoed press packet, because my sources offered heavy critiques of its methods..
…I ended up writing about the paper anyway after it made a huge media splash that prompted fury among geneticists. In a thoughtful post at the Knight Science Journalism tracker, Paul Raeburn asked yesterday why other reporters didn’t notice the problems with the study that I wrote about. Having been burned by my own share of splashy papers that go bust, I think the “limits of DNA “ story underscores a few broader issues for our work as science journalists:
1. Science consists of more and more “big data” studies whose findings depend on statistical methods that few of us reporters can understand on our own. I never would have detected the statistical problems with the Vogelstein paper by myself. We can look for certain red flags that a study might not be up to snuff, such as small sample sizes or weak clinical trial designs, but it’s a lot harder to sniff out potential problems with complicated statistical methods.
2. Challenges in the news business are ratcheting up pressure on all of us. Reporters are doing much more work in much less time than we have in the past as we compete with an expanded universe of news providers who have sped up the news cycle. Yet it still takes time and effort to make sense of the developments we cover. It took me about three days to report my piece on the Vogelstein paper while I was simultaneously working on other assignments. That’s probably longer than most reporters can spend on a piece like this…
The article goes on to point out other challenges as
4. It’s becoming more difficult to trust traditional scientific authorities.
5. Beware the deceptively simple storyline.
6. Getting the story right matters more than ever.
- How to Read a Research Paper (and also Understand Health News Research Items) (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- “Summaries for Patients” and other plain language summaries help patients and others understand medical studies and guidelines (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- HealthNewsReview.org – Independent Expert Reviews of News Stories(jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- Science journalism blows it, dolphin rape edition. (behavecology.wordpress.com)
Science and Steamrollers: How Research Stories Can Go Off the Rails(CancerResearch101)
- Do scientists understand science journalism? (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- DNA has limits, but so does study questioning its value, geneticists say (blogs.nature.com)
- Science journalists should be asking questions and deflating exaggeration (guardian.co.uk)