Generally well done though the story may have been, we’re troubled when a story talks about "a small but protective effect " and uses active verbs to say the drugs "may stave off dementia" when it also states in the story this is not convincing proof of cause and effect. Then how can you have a protective effect? Association, maybe? Causation and protection, not yet.
This is an important and intriguing area of research. But stories that make it sound as though cause-and-effect has been proven – when it hasn’t – don’t do a service to public understanding. See how blogger Emlly DeVoto wrote about the same problem with causal language used in a Guardian article on the same study.
The cost of the drugs was not mentioned. And the possible cost-effectiveness ramifications of the research were not mentioned. As is often the case with 70% of the stories we review, cost just doesn’t seem to matter. But we all know it does.
The benefits are given only in relative, not absolute terms. See our primer on this topic. So when the story says "24 percent lower incidence of dementia" or "The risk was 19 percent lower" or "The risk was nearly halved" – readers need to know 24% of what? 19% of what? Half of what?
One harm was mentioned – "There are potential hazards, such as too-low blood pressure that can lead to damaging falls." That’s an incomplete listing, but we’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt in at least nodding in the direction of potential harms.
The story did state: "The new report describes an observational study, one that lacks the strict controls that are needed for convincing proof." And it further quoted the lead researcher saying, "Any study like this is hypothesis-generating. You only know for sure when you have done clinical prospective trials."
So we’ll give it a satisfactory grade. But we do with mixed feelings.
That’s because we’re troubled when the story talks about "a small but protective effect " and uses active verbs to say the drugs "may stave off dementia." That is terribly misleading to the reader. "Protective effect" when you state in the story this is not convincing proof of cause and effect? Blogger Emlly DeVoto wrote about the problem with causal language used in a Guardian article on the same study.
There is no overt disease-mongering of dementia in the story.
The story did quote one independent expert who injected a cautionary note – in addition to the lead researcher.
The story did note other observational studies that have "implicated various molecules" in dementia. We’ll again give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
Although never explicity stated, the widespread availability of angiotensin inhibiting drugs can be inferred from the story.
The story doesn’t frame the new study into the context of past research linking high blood pressure to dementia.
There’s no evidence that the story relied on a news release.