NBC lives in the data-free zone with claims of freedom from eyeglasses

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Gary Schwitzer is publisher of HealthNewsReview.org.  He has worked in health care journalism for 44 years.   He Tweets as @garyschwitzer, or using our project handle, @HealthNewsRevu.

I must be showing my age with my newly-rediscovered commitment to watching the network evening news each day.

A few more stories like the following, though, may break me of that habit.

This week the NBC Nightly News – and a physician-correspondent I hadn’t seen before, Dr.John Torres – reported on “New eye surgery holds promise for correcting nearsightedness.”  It was framed as an alternative to LASIK surgery – supposedly less invasive.

The story employed a familiar TV news formula:  one very satisfied patient, one true-believer physician, some extravagant claims not backed up by data or details.  Examples:

  • “For some, it’s more effective than LASIK.”  (For how many?  Where are the data?  What are the characteristics of these responders?)
  • “Within hours patients can see better.”  (Wow.  All patients?  How many patients?  How many out of how many?)
  • “Fewer patients report dry eye.”  (How many fewer?)
  • “It’s for people who are nearsighted but who do not have astigmatism.  But it could be expanded to more patients down the road.”  (Or, it might NOT if trials in other patients don’t succeed. But, hey, why not try to expand the market when you get this network news opportunity?)

One helpful detail included in the story:  it costs about $5,000 for both eyes but is not covered by insurance.  Maybe because some of these questions about evidence haven’t been sufficiently answered?

The story ends, though, with the kind of single anecdote allure that TV news loves:  “Freedom from glasses, thanks to a new technique.”

But no data were provided to tell viewers how many people get freedom from eyeglasses.

From 2006-2009, we applied our 10 systematic criteria as we reviewed the morning and evening news on the air from ABC, CBS and NBC.  We abandoned that practice because it was time-consuming, no one at the networks at the time seemed to be making any changes, the grades were awful and not getting any better.  But we promised that we’d continue to watch, and to blog occasionally about what we see on the air.  Of course, we have continued to systematically review the online website stories from ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as from CNN and Fox.

We hope that our followers will learn how to scrutinize claims, too. As you can see from this example, in the bulleted items above, the questions are simple.  And only by answering questions like these do you get 20-20 vision on whether something is a big deal…or whether the evidence is still a bit blurry.


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Comments (1)

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Linda Higgins, RN, MSN

June 8, 2017 at 8:35 am

Thank you for your insightful & honest reporting on so many health topics !! When I was in my MSN program, I learned how to evaluate studies for sample size, population, & many other criteria as to how robust the results were…or were not !! I’ve spent countless hours trying to educate people as to why results &/or studies were not valid !! Thanks again !!