Health journalists can't rely on the news release

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Tags features an interview with Wall Street Journal health columnist Tara Parker-Pope. The interview focuses on her opinion that “a flawed communications effort led to widespread misinterpretation of results by the news media and the public” regarding the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and its findings on how low-fat diets, consumption of calcium and vitamin D, and hormone replacement therapy affect women’s health.

In the interview Parker-Pope says, “I also think that as reporters, we should never take anything at face value. I think a mistake that a lot of people might make is to read the press release. I almost never read the press release. I read the study first, because I don’t want to be swayed by what the press release says. That’s what you have to do with any kind of scientific research — ask what is really being asked here, and how much is really being answered?”

She also says that science doesn’t work in soundbites. “But I also think just because we have 15 seconds or 800 words or whatever the amount of time we have to tell our story, we still have to get it right. It’s challenging but it’s also what’s kind of fun about being a health writer — taking this really technical, complicated stuff and distilling it down into something that people can understand and use to make decisions about their health.”

I’m part of a team that has been working for months on a system to evaluate and grade U.S. health news coverage of clinical research. A website displaying these evaluations will be launched in about a month. It’s meant to support excellence in health/medical journalism, but also to help people become smarter consumers of news and of health care. More details on this website in the weeks to come.

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Comments (2)

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Tom Braun

March 23, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Hi! Tara Parker-Pope is right, the studies should be read, but let’s peel the onion back and determine if the construction of the study was non-bias. 85% of all studies do not meet the standards for rigorous scientific investigation.
The WHI study overdosed the participants by 300% on the Progestrin. That smells in my opinion.
T. Braun RPh
S: Could you forward my comments to her. Thanks.
“Confessions of a Drug Pusher”