5-Star Friday: ‘A step away from the norm of the daily drumbeat’

In this installment of 5-Star Friday — our regular feature highlighting excellent health care writing that caught our eye — we noticed a bit of a common thread. Our publisher Gary Schwitzer called it “a step away from the norm of the daily drumbeat.”

The topics covered below are ones you’ll read about week after week. So it’s easy to fall in step with that beat, and march to the same old drummer.

But we feel the reporting featured below doesn’t do that. See if you agree.

Gary Schwitzer | Founder & Publisher

Can you vaccinate yourself against cancer? • by Jacqueline Howard • CNN.com

Gary Schwitzer

How cool that CNN afforded the time and space for a journalist to explore a big picture issue such as a history of past successes and failures with vaccines. How wonderful to see a 3,000 word online piece. How important it is to allow journalists to step back from the shovelware, spoonfed, journal du jour news that dominates most of the health care news landscape – and to, instead, provide history, background, context, perspective.

That’s what I thought we’d be allowed to do when I worked for CNN medical news in the pre-Internet caveman era (1984-1990).  But, alas, management didn’t afford us that luxury. And when we were given a new opportunity to produce one-hour specials, they were pharma-sponsored and ethical disputes arose.  It was a constant frustration and this reporter eventually walked away in disgust and disappointment.

Maybe now there’s a little light flickering on the horizon?  “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Reporter-Editor

Another Alzheimer’s Drug Fails: What Makes this Disease So Tough to Fight? • by Dennis Thompson • HealthDay

Haven’t you been wondering the same thing?

Mary Chris Jaklevic

This story takes a step back from the stream of bad news about Alzheimer’s research to recruit the views of three experts. It addresses why a focus on amyloid plaques — protein clumps that seem to block signalling in the brain — has been such a bust.

“Ten years ago, there was very little funding for Alzheimer’s disease,” James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association, told Thompson. “When you don’t have a lot of money for funding, you tend to go for the most obvious approach, and that was amyloid.”

Better technology has since revealed that about a third of people with Alzheimer’s don’t have these plaques, the story reports.

Meanwhile, more funding for Alzheimer’s research has helped open new avenues of study, such as the Tau protein and how other health conditions associated with aging might contribute.  “So researchers have started thinking that any successful treatment for Alzheimer’s will resemble the ‘cure’ that HIV patients are given — a multi-pronged drug and lifestyle regimen that keeps their illness at bay,” Thompson writes.

I wish more journalists would step back from the daily mill of news releases to explain the bigger picture.

Michael Joyce | Writer-Producer

Concussion Protocol • a short film by Josh Begley • republished by Aeon

We’ve published dozens of articles about the news coverage of concussion; most recently this piece touching on how the NFL frames this issue for the public.

Michael Joyce

It’s an area where you have to be careful as a reader because it can be a minefield of conflicts of interest, mouse studies that reporters will carelessly extrapolate to humans, and clickbait headlines that overreach in spinning results from observational studies.

In navigating this maze it’s often easy to overlook that at the center of these stories are people getting hurt.

And that’s the power of this roughly 5-minute film featuring all 281 reported concussions from the 2017 NFL season. You have no choice but to acknowledge this pain. The overall effect of the film is paradoxically mesmerizing and deeply disturbing. Kudos to Begley for trying a new way to reach people with this important health issue.

And may I add an important reminder that I think is not covered nearly enough? That is, these concussions are occurring in a variety of settings that bring up important public health issues. A short list would include falls in the elderly, domestic violence, bicycle and car accidents, and a host of sports besides just American football.

Jill U. Adams | Associate Editor

Journey to Gunland • by Melinda Wenner Moyer • Scientific American

Jill U. Adams

The article is a few months old, but seems worthy given the grassroots efforts to spur new gun control legislation after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It also fits our 5-star theme of engaging deep perspectives behind the issues of the day.

Melinda Wenner Moyer takes an in-depth look at gun ownership and crime in the US. She sets her exploration of the scientific evidence alongside on-the-ground reporting from Southern towns where guns are a part of life.

Wenner Moyer reminds readers that the evidence base is small because of restrictions placed on the CDC from conducting gun violence research as a public health issue. (Also, it’s implausible to design a controlled experiment.) The issue is highly polarized, which means advocates on either side of the gun control debate tend to cherry-pick studies that support their positions. For an example, read this published “objection” to Wenner Moyer’s article and the author’s response.

Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.

5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.

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.

Comments are closed.