NOTE TO READERS: When this project lost substantial funding at the end of 2018, I lost the ability to continue publishing criteria-driven news story reviews and PR news release reviews - once the bread-and-butter of the site going back to 2006. The 3,200 archived reviews, while still educational, are getting old and difficult for me to technically maintain on the back end of the website. So I am announcing that I plan to remove these reviews from the site by April 1, 2021. The blog and the toolkit - two of the most popular features on the site - will remain. If you wish to peruse the reviews before they disappear, please do so by the end of March 2021. After that date you may still be able to access them via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine -

A science writer’s lament about reader mail

Science journalist Christie Ashwanden posted a summary of her recent talk to the National Association of Science Writers meeting on “The Last Word on Nothing” blog.

Her talk was, “You’ve got mail, you idiot: what reader mail has taught me about science writing.”

This one is going to resonate with anyone who writes about science/medicine/health/healthcare.

Her summary:

“Tell readers that they’re wrong about something they know in their heart to be true, and they will send you hate mail.

…people believe what they want to believe. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about. People don’t want to know that they could do everything right and still die of cancer. I don’t want to know that I might not be as brilliant as I think I am. So we reject the facts and fall back on our worlds of truthiness.

And personal anecdote. Don’t even bother trying to overturn those with facts. No study will ever convince the people who are certain that the vitamin helped them. I’m not sure it’s possible to convince people with data that contradict their personal experience.

But I know this: if you’re going to have any hope whatsoever, you have to speak to their story. Because that’s what you’re competing against.

Here are two letters I received about the very same article. I know which one I believe.”


Almost all of my similar experiences revolve around what I’ve written about screening tests. She cites an example of her own with a mammography story, in response to which she got this note:


Read Christie’s full piece. And, by the way, I think she does terrific work!

You might also like


Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.


November 2, 2011 at 8:45 am

Scientific evidence? If anything in that statement might be referring to “STUDIES” it’s no wonder nobody believes any of it. Wait a day or so and you’ll get another opinion from results.