Jill U. Adams is a health journalist and an associate editor at HealthNewsReview.org. She tweets as @juadams.
Last week, US News & World Report ran a piece, Medical News: Real or Fake? that cataloged a series of reader-beware items, including internet ads for “miracle cures” and other potentially bogus products. News sites, readers are warned, may carry exaggerated claims and don’t receive the same level of fact-checking as in the good old days.
Readers of the story won’t have to go far to learn just how careful they need to be.
A quick scan of other US News health stories presents some prime examples of practices that we find problematic.
We applaud any effort to educate and inform readers, and we’re not suggesting that US News is in the business of publishing “fake” news, which implies an intent to deceive readers. But some of their content clearly is not very thoroughly vetted. And as publisher Gary Schwitzer has pointed out, it is these incomplete, poorly researched stories that may well be the bigger problem for readers compared with outright “fake” stories.
U.S. News is hardly alone among news outlets that need to take a careful look in the mirror.
Earlier this year, Women’s Health ran a piece, “Six Tips That Will Help You Spot Fake News.” The advice, delivered in easy-to-digest listicle format common to glossy consumer magazines, is spot-on.
Too bad it’s from a magazine that publishes a whole lot of click-bait health journalism.
Best Health Magazine in Canada, part of the Reader’s Digest empire, offered up this helpful take, “How to Spot Fake Health News,” an excerpt of a book by William Davis, a medical doctor.
The team here at HealthNewsReview.org is always happy to see other media outlets call for evidence-based health journalism. Of course we are — that’s what we’re about. We believe our criteria for evaluating health news stories can be used by anyone to be a more critical reader of health news and a better informed consumer of health advice.
We don’t hesitate to call out health news articles for poor sourcing, confusing associations for cause-and-effect, sensational headlines, or fear-mongering. And as we critique others, you’d better believe we’re super vigilant to not wade into the same muck. We want to model what we see as responsible health journalism.
We want to do as we say. We wish others would do the same.