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An Alzheimer's research story done right

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Health news critic Gary Schwitzer praises the Star Tribune for injecting a dose of realism into an Alzheimer’s research report: "Interesting research from a researcher with an interesting track record, but nowhere near any human application or implication. It didn’t seem like a Herculean effort for the paper to report it in this way, but it stands apart from a lot of what we see in Alzheimer’s disease (and other health care news) reporting — or in PR news releases."

What's to be done about Tom Wolfe?

The Kingdom of Speech cover

The New Journalism icon's latest book, The Kingdom of Speech, "is a book situated at the intersection of inflammatory and ignorant" for what the author has to say about evolution, Barbara J. King writes. So, naturally, King suggests that readers should avoid the book, right? Actually, she says the opposite — that readers need to see what Wolfe says, then push back: "Read Wolfe, certainly. Then go read Darwin's beautiful, insightful and revolutionary words themselves."

Uncertainty and a breast cancer study

Bell curve drawing

Kevin Lomangino assesses coverage of a study on a genetic test designed to identify breast-cancer patients who can opt out of chemotherapy. Specifically, he examines how major news media handled the statistical uncertainty surrounding the study's results, which was disclosed in the paper's discussion section: "All of the four stories that I looked at related to this study called attention to the uncertainty surrounding this figure but with varying degrees of emphasis."

The media's role in distorting science


Did you read about the survey that said 82 percent of adults had "sexted" sometime in the past year? So did Robert Gebelhoff, who writes about the flimsy science behind that attention-grabbing statistic: "Examples like this are legion in the world of science journalism. As a result, the scientific community has lately been making an effort try to end the stream of misleading articles — going so far as to redesign the way academic journals review and publish studies."

An experts' beef about quote selection

Quotation marks

Forensic linguist Claire Hardaker tried her best to beg off responding to an insistent reporter's questions about the demographics of Internet trolls, but she finally gave in, sending a nuanced reply via email. "So what made it into the Telegraph, with its headline 'Why are most internet trolls men?' three whole weeks later?" she wrote. A four-word quote from her saying that there is “lots of anecdotal evidence” that most trolls are male. "Yeah," Hardaker concludes.

Web metrics and journalism's decline

Coffee cup

Jeff Wise interviews Gary Schwitzer of about the sorry state of health reporting in the media today, compared with years gone by: "Click rates just dominate. It is really sad to talk with 30-, 40-year veterans who know their stuff, and they know what they’re being judged on. It’s not the quality or the shoe leather or the extra source or the angle that nobody else has. It’s only the web metrics, on many days. I don’t know, maybe I should retire."

A questionable story on prostate cancer

Prostate cancer cells

Denise Grady writes about the promotion of a study on advanced prostate cancer with alarming results that earned it media coverage but which were quickly challenged by the American Cancer Society for unsound statistical methods: "The frightening news appears to be a false alarm — the product of a study questioned by other researchers but promoted with an incendiary news release and initially reported by some news media with little or no analysis from outside experts."

Good and bad in new stent coverage


Health News Review examines stories from the Associated Press and Reuters on a new stent for treating coronary artery disease. The reviewers praise the AP version but not the Reuters story: "Its almost giddy approach to the FDA announcement belies the fact that long-term safety and efficacy data are not yet in hand. Put another way, no one yet knows if these dissolvable stents will make a practical difference in heart disease patient outcomes."

Too much skepticism on cell phones?

Woman holding cell phone

Few news outlets gave serious coverage to the latest findings on cell phones and cancer, and that could be a mistake, Paul Raeburn writes: "It’s not enough to put coverage on autopilot and default into doubt. The journalistic wisdom of today seems to suggest that reporters should understate potential risks — and indeed, it’s important to avoid fear-mongering and hype. But it’s also important to remain open to new research and the potential concerns it may raise."

On the New Yorker's epigenetics story

Double helix illustration

Pulitzer-prize winning physician/author Siddhartha Mukherjee has a new book on epigenetics, and last week the New Yorker published an excerpt, whereupon scientists in the field hit the roof, Aleszu Bajak writes: "Epigenetics is complex stuff, and Mukherjee simplified it to the point of error. Of course, that’s a hazard for any science storyteller." More from Brian Resnick and from Jerry Coyne here, here, and here.