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The Pill…For Him

Rating

2 Star

The Pill…For Him

Our Review Summary

The viewer/reader comes away from this story with an impression that there is something on the scientific horizon that might enable men to take a harmless pill to prevent pregnancy if only men would “swallow” their pride, so to speak. But it is impossible for a viewer to learn enough about this apparent innovation to gauge its merits. 

 

The idea that a man could take a pill that would stop sperm from impregnating a woman is not new. Or, as reporter Friesen said, “There’s been a lot of song and dance over the years about a contraceptive pill …” Given the sketchy description of the pill, it’s impossible to evaluate the pharmacology of the mystery compound, its origin, or how long researchers have been following this line of research.

 

There is also no attempt to describe the nature of the evidence to support the pill–and no attempt to quantify the purported benefits. Has the research been conducted in test tubes? In rats? In amorous young men? Has it been compared to a sugar pill or to alternative methods of contraception? The viewer has no way to know. When the broadcast does attempt to explain how this contraceptive might work, the information is contradictory. Reporter Friesen: it’s a “hormone-free pill that stops the production of sperm…” Researcher Smith: “It’s not stopping sperm production, it’s just stopping the muscle that takes the sperm along.”

 

To date, experimental approaches in this field have included hormonal treatments that repress sperm production while maintaining “maleness.” This new approach, while interesting, does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal and the information in the broadcast does not appear to be supported by previous work in this area.

 

Despite the testimony of an unidentified man and an unidentified woman about barriers facing any male contraceptive pill (“…it’s going to damage their manhood.” “Men forget to take the rubbish out…”), there are likely more obstacles to its success than the male temperament. Pills tend to have unintended consequences. Does this pill have the potential to harm more than a man’s chauvinism? The viewer of this broadcast can only guess. There is one major potential harm intrinsic to any contraceptive—treatment failure.

 

The broadcast mentions alternatives to the pill in a somewhat cryptic sound bite from researcher Amobi, in which he appears to describe some of the disadvantages of the other options. But there is no measured weighing of the pros and cons of these options. There is no mention of the potential cost of the pill, nor of any other methods of male contraception.

 

Though the broadcast relies on a variety of sources–two researchers who are developing the pill, a professional in family planning, an unidentified man, and an unidentified woman—all seem to have a stated or unstated bias. The story sorely lacks a knowledgeable source able to evaluate the research with a skeptical, unbiased eye.  A knowledgeable, independent source might have corrected the statement by an unidentified male ("… it’s going to damage their manhood') that suggests men would not opt for a hormonal approach to birth control. The medical literature is reasonably consistent in this area, and supports the view that men would in fact welcome a hormonally based male contraceptive.

 

Good entertainment and good journalism are not mutually exclusive. But uniting them takes more than a song and a dance. This is one case where the two-star score (satisfactory on 3 out of 10 criteria) may be deceivingly high. 

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast makes no mention of the potential cost of the pill, nor of any other methods of male contraception.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The report suggests the pill is remarkable. The compound seems to work 100% of the time and its effects are reportedly reversible in mere hours. But there is no attempt to quantify these benefits.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Pills tend to have unintended consequences. The only potential harm mentioned is "damage to manhood." One major potential harm is intrinsic to any contraceptive—treatment failure. What's known about this in trials so far?

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast does not describe the nature of the evidence to support this pill—or its newsworthiness. Has the research been conducted in test tubes? In rats? In amorous young men? The viewer has no way to know. When the broadcast does attempt to explain how this contraceptive might work, the information is contradictory. In one line the reporter says it "stops the production of sperm" and in the next line the interviewee says "it's not stopping sperm production."  Stop the presses. Who's editing these scripts? 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No obvious elements of disease-mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast interviews two researchers who are developing the male contraceptive pill, a professional in family planning, an unidentified man, and an unidentified woman. Virtually all have significant stated or unstated biases. The story sorely lacks a knowledgeable source able to evaluate the research with a skeptical, unbiased eye.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast briefly mentions alternatives to the male contraceptive pill in a short sound bite from researcher Amobi, in which some of the disadvantages of the other options are mentioned. There is no measured weighing of the pros and cons of these options.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The broadcast explains that this male contraceptive pill is still in development and won’t be available any time soon.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

Given the sketchy description of the pill, it’s impossible to evaluate its novelty.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

No obvious use of text from a press release.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

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