Sad side effect of sequestration for health care journalists

It’s disappointing to learn from the NIH website this weekend:

The 2013 Medicine in the Media course has been cancelled due to sequestration.

For journalists interested in learning how to evaluate evidence and improve their reporting on studies, this is the finest workshop I’ve attended.

Disclosure:  I have appeared as an instructor at this workshop for 6 years as I recall, including last year.   Look at the lineup of speakers from that event, and you’ll see what will be missed by the absence of such an event this year.

Dartmouth’s Steve Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz, along with NCI’s Barry Kramer who founded the workshops, inspired and educated any journalist – and I think any of the instructors (like me) who ever attended one of these sessions.

Let’s hope for a funding solution.

And – if you weren’t aware – our own project loses its core funding this summer.

Here are the testimonials on the NIH Medicine in the Media website:

“Armed with the information I’ve learned from this course, I’ll be better able to analyze and interpret a study and know, A) if it’s worth reporting on…and B) what kind of information I need to include no matter what. I feel like I’m ready to go back to the office being a better journalist already.”
– Angela Haupt, 2012, Associate Health Editor, U.S. News & World Report

“We’ve learned about math, statistics, p values….we’re also learning about framing it in the bigger picture of journalism and what’s going on in health care in this country. Even during the breaks, talking with the fantastic people who are here, I have learned so much.”
– Helen Osborne, 2012, Speaker, Writer, Podcaster, and Consultant; Health Literacy Consulting

“It’s been a good refresher on looking at what makes scientific articles tick, and on being able to discern which journal articles are valid and would carry interest to the public. The presentation on writing and blogging for the web has a lot of applications I can take back to my colleagues.”
– Thomas Lawrence Crocker, 2012, Copywriter, True North Custom Media

“The presenters are terrific—I never thought I’d be as excited about p values as I am today! It’s helpful to hear from these experts how to translate technical information into language that makes sense for the audience. The curriculum is terrific, and it includes everything you need to know.”
– Tamara Y. Jeffries, 2012, Freelance Writer and Editor, Journalism Educator

“This is a wonderful course. It provides a way of critically understanding the scientific literature, to be able to separate the hype from the hope. I’ve been to a number of similar presentations, and this is the very best one I can imagine. The presenters were absolutely terrific.”
– Allen Frances, M.D., 2012, former chair of the DSM-IV Task Force and of the department of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine

“The reminder that you do have the responsibility and the ability to look critically at the studies as a journalist—that’s been a great message across the board. It’s also a great chance to brush up on your skills; it’s a great place to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a journalist and a critical thinker. And since so many of us work by ourselves, it’s a great networking opportunity, just to be here with other journalists.”
– Malia Frey, 2012, Freelance Health Writer

“I’m amazed at the ability of the course-givers to take very complex information, information I had very low understanding of coming in the door, and make it not only clear, but interesting, so that you want to learn more about it and you want to take it back with you and put it to use. I think one of the major benefits of this course is what I’m going to be able to talk to my colleagues about and make them aware of. And I’ve got cards from 15 or 20 people I’ll be contacting in the future for leads to stories and to use as sources.”
– Richard Kipling, 2011, Center for Health Reporting at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

“I will be looking much more closely at the studies, how they’re designed, and what kind of studies they are before I decide what to cover. Now I might cover studies that I wouldn’t have before, and in a more critical way. Increasingly I don’t think media outlets are providing this training to their staff, so this is a unique opportunity to get really important training. ”
– Eliza Barclay, 2011, NPR

“To be a good reporter you have to ask the right questions. And I feel like now I have the tools to ask questions that I wouldn’t have asked before. I’m a better writer and reporter going out of this than I was when I came in. ”
– Cynthia Ramnarace, 2011, Freelance Journalist, New York City

“The mix of speakers is just terrific. It’s very intense and intensive. But I will almost guarantee that you will leave here changed in a very positive way, with some things that you’ll never forget, and other things where the seed is planted. ”
– Gary Schwitzer, 2011, (Instructor)

“It’s clear that this program has been given and fine-tuned over time. The presentations are not only straightforward, but often entertaining…The faculty could not be more responsive or helpful…This is one of the best news conferences I’ve ever attended and in many ways, it can hardly be improved upon.”
– Joe Fahy, 2008, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“…attending last year’s Medicine in the Media course was the best thing I have done for my career. Walking away from the course with a massive binder and an armful of handouts was quite symbolic of the intensity of the weekend and density of material covered. Not only was it enlightening to learn how (and when) to determine absolute and relative risk and the relevance of p-value, for example, the course also lent broader context to the realm in which we operate as health reporters. Between the many real world examples of errors created or perpetuated by journalists covering health and medicine to the less-than-pure intentions of sources from industry to academia, I found the experience illuminating in unexpected ways.”
– Sarah Baldauf, 2008, U.S. News & World Report

“The information I learned here is such a great basis for my health journalism career. Even though I am a local journalist in a small community (small state), I still found relevance in every presentation…The speakers were great and funny. Even though it was a physically and mentally exhausting week, they kept my interest.”
– Allison Rupp, 2008, Casper Star-Tribune

“Thank you so much for the organizing and sponsoring such an important and worthwhile conference. I am honored that I was selected to participate in a seminar with such distinguished leaders and such a noble mission.”
– Nicole Sarrubo, 2008, Consumer Reports on Health

“I thought it was absolutely incredible. I came out of the program a much better reporter when it came to writing and reporting on medical research. The public would be healthier and wiser if every medical reporter was able to enroll in this program before covering scientific studies and screenings. Not to mention, the food was fantastic!”
– Hiran Ratnayake, 2007, Delaware News Journal

“This is a well-organized, extremely informative course. No health reporter should miss this. It’s that important.”
– Lisa Rosetta, 2007, The Salt Lake Tribune

“This kind of repetition and education may cause small changes that have a ripple effect and eventually change the entire media industry to report more soundly and accurately on medical research and health care.”
– Jennifer Gangloff, 2007, Freelance Writer

“I have to say it was simply the most informative conference I’ve ever attended. It completely altered my perspective on scientific studies, making me question seemingly well designed studies in reputable medical journals. I learned to look for hidden numbers that may be buried deep within tables or perhaps not reported at all. And it enabled me to better put risks into perspective. Bravo to the professors who teach this course. I’ve used some of them as sources since then.”
– Deborah Kotz, 2007, U.S. News & World Report

“This was the best seminar I’ve ever attended! Every lecture was interesting (really) and, most importantly, applicable to my job. I will definitely look at studies more critically…”
– Shamane Mills, 2007, Wisconsin Public Radio


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