She acknowledges that the coverage on this story was lacking in many ways. She also notes that Nick Bilton — a tech columnist — should’ve been more closely supervised when writing about health:
“It is, of course, possible for a non-expert to write effectively on a complicated subject but, when that happens, extra checking and caution is in order. That didn’t happen here.
And although Mr. Bilton is a columnist, with plenty of leeway for expressing opinion, the careful interpretation of facts still matters. That, too, was lacking.
What’s more, the original web headline felt like click bait, although it certainly reflected the top of the column. Toning it down was a smart move — in fact, a necessity.”
She also offers us Bilton’s take on why he used Joseph Mercola as an expert source for the story.
I find his defense to be totally inadequate.
Never mind Bilton’s nonsensical statement that, “The reality is, we still don’t know definitively the causes of cellphones and cancer.”
Let’s chalk that up to a transcription error.
What really irks me is Bilton’s attempt to blame readers for not knowing that Joseph Mercola is an irresponsible huckster.
Paraphrasing Bilton, Sullivan writes, “He said that describing Dr. Mercola as an alternative practitioner should have alerted readers.”
Is it just me, or is there an unfinished thought at the end of that sentence?
What is it that Bilton thought he was “alerting” us to with his description? The fact that Dr. Mercola holds antiscience views?
For those who don’t understand Bilton’s code, wouldn’t it have been better to just come right out and say what he meant?
Something like, “Hey, even though this guy thinks that root canals cause cancer, I’m going to quote him as an authority on cancer risk in the New York Times”?
Bilton probably felt uncomfortable coming out and saying something like that so baldly.
Which should have been a good indication that he never should have been talking to Mercola in the first place.
Bilton still doesn’t seem to recognize that fact.
He also doesn’t seem to recognize the damage he’s done by legitimizing Mercola in The New York Times.
Let’s remember that cell phones aside, Mercola’s health advice is more than just harmless nonsense. He has a real impact on the health of real people, and giving him a bigger platform is a problem. Twitter drove that point home with some examples:
Here’s the deal. Legitimizing Mercola and breast cancer “alternative medicine” promoters results in the cancer deaths of real women. Fact.
— Xeni (@xeni) March 19, 2015
— Bahar Gholipour (@Alterwired) March 19, 2015
— Chris Tacy (@cbtacy) March 19, 2015
A New York Times editor’s note was added to the original piece. It reads:
Addendum: March 21, 2015
The Disruptions column in the Styles section on Thursday, discussing possible health concerns related to wearable technology, gave an inadequate account of the status of research about cellphone radiation and cancer risk.
Neither epidemiological nor laboratory studies have found reliable evidence of such risks, and there is no widely accepted theory as to how they might arise. According to the World Health Organization, “To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all said there is no convincing evidence for a causal relationship. While researchers are continuing to study possible risks, the column should have included more of this background for balance.
In addition, one source quoted in the article, Dr. Joseph Mercola, has been widely criticized by experts for his claims about disease risks and treatments. More of that background should have been included, or he should not have been cited as a source.
An early version of the headline for the article online — “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?” — also went too far in suggesting any such comparison.
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