There are many players in the rapid rise and spectacular fall of the blood-testing startup Theranos, but Nick Bilton points his finger at the news media: "There were no tough questions about whether Theranos’s technology actually worked; just praise. When it seemed that the tech press had vetted [founder Elizabeth] Holmes, she subsequently went mainstream. She got her New Yorker profile, and her face appeared on the cover of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, among others."
How did a paper on some long-term changes in human genetics produce headlines saying that being a vegetarian can kill you? Andrew Porterfield examines coverage of the Cornell University study: "It’s too tempting for many outlets to talk about oversimplified solutions to things like obesity, heart disease, or cancer. It’s equally easy, as in the Cornell FADS allele story, to quickly mold hypothesis into proven outcome." More from Kaleigh Rogers.
Can a new brand of chocolate milk speed recovery from concussions? That's what a University of Maryland press release claims, but if it's true, why won't the university cough up the study's data or even take questions about it? Andrew Holtz writes: "That’s just one of the questions piling up about research involving high school football players, concussions and a brand of chocolate milk." Also, Earle Holland offers some theories on what happened.
Dan Nosowitz examines a widely-covered study that was portrayed in the media as concluding that growing lettuce and other vegetables produces more greenhouse gas emissions that meat. The headlines weren't true, Nosowitz writes: "The basic issue is the lack of communication — and often of understanding — between the scientists who do the research and the people who write the press releases, and a further problem of laziness from journalists who merely parrot the releases."
Fortune magazine made Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes a tech star with its 2014 feature on her company's finger-stick blood tests. Now, questions plague the company's claims, and the story's writer, Roger Parloff, offers a mea culpa: "As much as I’d like to say that Holmes lied to me, I don’t think she did. I do believe I was misled — intentionally — but I was also culpable, in that I failed to probe certain exasperatingly opaque answers that I repeatedly received."
Steve Buttry quotes from historian David McCullough’s new book The Wright Brothers to show how easy it can be for journalists to miss history even when it is unfolding right in front of them: "After the Dec. 17, 1903, maiden flight of the Wright Flyer, the news coverage was, at least looking back more than a century later, embarrassing. Newspapers either whiffed on the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historic achievement entirely or got major facts wrong."
The longtime CBS newsman discusses anti-science views in politics, and places some of the blame on journalists seeking balance: "In a TV news story over science, what if the charlatan in the video is more charismatic and camera-friendly than the person backed by the preponderance of science? That was the case in the infamous '60 Minutes' piece about a link between vaccines and autism, which featured a now thoroughly discredited British doctor with a smooth accent."
A case examined by HealthNewsReview.org shows that even when a news release is hedged, the ensuing news stories can still be hyped. Kevin Lomangino compares a release and resulting article on resveratrol and Alzheimer’s: "Our reviewers praised the Georgetown University Medical Center release issued for the phase 2 safety study, calling it 'appropriately tempered and very informative' … but a Time magazine story about the study received low marks from our review team."
Christie Aschwanden dissects the study behind last week's headlines about electronic cigarettes and the odds that their users will move on to regular cigarettes. What she finds is a sample size problem; 37.5% of e-cigarette users took up traditional smoking, but the raw count was just six of 16: "The media does the public no favors when it presents a single study (especially a small one like this) as gospel, rather than just a small addition to the amassing evidence."
It's not their lower metabolic rates, Bethany Brookshire writes in a takedown of one of the most recent viral science stories. After consulting with experts in building design, Brookshire writes that metabolism is probably not a significant factor: "So who is keeping you so cold? Whoever sets the thermostat, not whoever designed the building … Some buildings overcool air to reduce humidity. Men stuffed into heavy suits may play a role, but psychology might as well."