Posted by Gary Schwitzer in Health care journalism
This young woman is off to a great start in her science journalism career.
Taylor Kubota wrote on her blog, “Making Studies Out of Nothing At All.” She begins:
“The other day someone recommended that I write about the connection between iced tea and kidney stones. These painful deposits of minerals and salt that form in the urinary tract are of particular interest to me because I am the daughter of a 10-time kidney stone sufferer. As soon as I started Googling about for more information on my possible story, I saw that my curiosity had company. Articles all over the web were citing a new study that said iced tea drinkers are at an increased risk for this painful ailment.
Unfortunately, that study everyone was so hyped about doesn’t exist.
It all started with a Loyola University news release. In it Dr. John Milner, a urologist and an assistant professor in Department of Urology at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, warns that iced tea contains high levels of oxalate* (a chemical known to cause calcium stones, which are the most common type of kidney stone) and that, therefore, drinking a lot of iced tea might increase an individual’s risk of developing kidney stones. (In case your wondering: Dr. Milner went on to say in the release that hot tea — which also contains oxalate — is less of a concern merely because people in the U.S. don’t consume as much of it as they do its iced counterpart.)
Altogether the information in the release was pretty interesting stuff and I actually learned a lot from it. What I didn’t learn was why Loyola University wrote it. So I did what I would think most journalists would do and I called the press office (the phone number for which was conveniently located at the top of the news release). I spoke with one of the media relations people and asked whether there was a study attached to this release or if it was just a helpful tip. I was told it was the latter and we said our goodbyes. That call of less than 2 minutes killed my story and gave life to this blog post.
As a reader of science journalism you deserve to know that it is (regrettably) common for reporters to rewrite press releases without doing any additional reporting.”
Indeed, Newsday reported: “People who drink iced tea may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing painful kidney stones, a new study indicates.” Where’d they get that? Probably from Healthday, which reported what we show you here:
Read Taylor Kubota’s entire post. And join me in wishing her a great career in science journalism. We need to find room for young journalists like her in a needy industry.
(Photo credit: brendan-c via flickr)