“Dumbing down” of heart screening news by major news organizations

That’s the phrase cardiovascular news specialist Larry Husten used on his Cardiobrief blog (which also appeared on Forbes) in his own followup to my critiques last week. Husten took the critique to a new level, and interviewed one expert who said her comments were misquoted or used out of context.

The weekly email digest that I sent out today steps back from the fury and furor of last week as we saw one, then a second, then a third troubled example of news stories on heart screening tests pile up on TV network newscasts or websites.

If you’ve never read of one of our weekly digests, this is a good one to start with. It may be our best effort yet – largely due to the serendipity of last week’s circumstances. You can sign up to receive these email digests at this link.

The digest allows us one last chance, as we move from one week to the next, to reflect on big picture themes that otherwise might be missed. This week’s digest addresses three big themes:

• non-evidence-based promotions of various heart screening tests by journalists

• the unavoidable fact that all three story examples came from TV networks

• the further unavoidable fact that 2 of the 3 examples were reported by physician-reporters, who, as Andrew Holtz wrote, seem to have problems overcoming “the ‘patient in front of me’ orientation of medicine in order to develop a sense of what the public needs to get in news coverage of health and medicine.”

After reading this week’s email digest, one journalist wrote to me on Twitter today saying:

“You’re like Don Quixote on this one, but keep tilting.”

A veteran science communicator wrote to me:

“How do you personally cope with the constancy of frustration with the cavalier way much reporting is done today?”

I care very deeply about these issues. That’s what drives me. It does wear on me to see the same troublesome trends continuing and perhaps broadening and deepening. But I think it’s important to practice journalism about journalism – and to directly address flaws and try to effect change.

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