The biggest flaws were common ones:
Studies have been done for decades on alcohol and heart disease. This story never mentioned that long history. In 220 words, no time or space was provided for context or for an evaluation of the evidence. That’s why it got 0 stars.
The cost of alcoholic drinks isn’t in question.
The benefit – in terms of risk reduction – was provided only in relative risk reduction terms – 25% reduction in additional heart procedures, heart attacks or strokes. But readers should be told “25% of what?” See our primer on this topic.
Most of the story focused on benefits. The story reported that “bypass patients with a condition called left ventricular dysfunction who were heavy drinkers, defined as having more than six drinks daily, were twice as likely to die from heart problems.” But twice as likely as what?
Twice as likely could mean 1 in 100 going up to 2 in 100. Was that it? Or was it 25 in 100 jumping up to 50 in 100? This is why we expect stories to quantify harms (and benefits) in absolute terms, not just relative. See our primer on this topic.
It concluded with: “The American Heart Association recommends men limit themselves to two drinks a day and women to one drink a day, because too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and have other negative effects.” But again, no information was given on the extent of blood pressure increase or on what “other negative effects” they were talking about. If it’s worth mentioning, it’s worth specifying.
We’ve said before that news organizations that make causal claims about observational studies should have to write on the blackboard hundreds of times: “Association does not equal causation.” So using phrases like “can benefit from a few drinks” in the headline is wrong.
There was no discussion of the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies – and not a word about the potential weaknesses in a study that relied on people to fill out a questionnaire about their alcohol consumption.
Not applicable because this 220-word story didn’t really given any background on the heart conditions in question.
No independent expert was quoted – only one of the researchers.
The potential benefit of alcohol consumption was not compared with any other approach for reducing the risk of additional heart procedures, heart attacks or strokes in people who had bypass surgery. This could have been done with a little homework and a few more sentences.
The availability of alcohol isn’t in question.
We aren’t given any context of the long, long history of research looking at alcohol and heart disease.
Not applicable. We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story may have relied on a news release. Only one researcher was quoted.