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."
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."
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."
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.
Daniel Nethery and Emmanuel Vincent write about their plans for Climate Feedback, where climate scientists review news stories: "Our collective reviews allow scientists from all over the world to provide feedback in a timely, effective manner. We then publish an accessible synthesis of their responses, and provide feedback to editors so that they can improve the accuracy of their reporting." More from Xian Chiang-Waren.
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."