Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Medical reporting in the lay press does the public a disservice

---because it distorts more than it informs. Regular readers of this blog know that I've been critical of the popular media for a long time. My favorite media outlet to pick on is the New York Times because it is purported to be the most reliable source for medical news. When they blow it, and they usually do, we really need to be concerned about the rest of the popular media.

A number of years ago I ran across Science Education in Preparation for the Ministry. The premise of the document, written by pathologist and teacher Ed Friedlander, MD, was that because members of the clergy are often called on to speak in areas where morality and ethics interface with science, they should have some prerequisite knowledge. Orac's latest example of credulous and sloppy medical reporting in the New York Times got me to thinking that maybe there should be similar learning objectives for journalists. So, borrowing some ideas from Dr. Friedlander, here were a few that came to mind:


Outline the scientific method.

Explain the hazards of examining scientific questions in the arena of public debate.

Explain how the 1918 influenza pandemic was fundamentally different from the 1957, 1968 and 2009 pandemics.

Define and distinguish: epidemic, pandemic, endemic.

Define and distinguish: sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value.

Define and distinguish: enzyme, catalyst, protein.

Define and distinguish: antigen, antibody.

Define and distinguish: DNA, RNA.

Define and distinguish: axiom, postulate, hypothesis, theory, fact.

Define evidence based medicine.

Explain why consideration of biologic plausibility is important in the evaluation of health claims and why evidence based medicine often fails when biologic plausibility is not taken into account.

Define and distinguish: bacteria, fungus, virus.

Explain why scientific progress does not lend itself to sound bite reporting or “news of the day” journalism.

Describe Medicare’s prospective payment system and the financial conflict of interest it causes.

Define and distinguish: humoral immunity, cell mediated immunity, innate immunity, acquired immunity.

Define and distinguish: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamin, mineral.

Define and distinguish: heart failure, shock, heart attack, angina.

Define: relative risk reduction, absolute risk reduction, number needed to treat.

Explain the difference between clinical significance and statistical significance in clinical trial results.

Define and distinguish: accountable health organization, health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization, patient centered medical home, integrated delivery system.

Define and distinguish, in the context of health care: quality, patient safety, performance.

Describe Mendalian genetics and explain why common inherited conditions do not follow simple Mendalian patterns.

Define and distinguish: meta-analysis, systematic review, expert review.

Distinguish between a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and an artificial heart.

Distinguish between pacemaker, implantable defibrillator and cardiac resynchronization device.


This list is the product of some initial brainstorming and is by no means comprehensive or even realistic, but I think you get the idea.

1 comment:

crommunist said...

We discussed this very issue last night at our meeting of CFI Vancouver. It's a good list, and I think we're going to be taking action on it here.