Wrangling bad pop-science journalism

LevesonOne of the side benefits of the Leveson Inquiry (UK phone hacking scandal) is the following guidelines for responsible science and health reporting. Also a good list for readers to use in assessing health and science journalism. The list:

  • State the source of the story – eg interview, conference, journal article, a survey from a charity or trade body, etc – ideally with enough information for readers to look it up or a web link.
  • Specify the size and nature of the study – eg who/what were the subjects, how long did it last, what was tested or was it an observation? If space, mention the major limitations.
  • When reporting a link between two things, indicate whether or not there is evidence that one causes the other.
  • Give a sense of the stage of the research – eg cells in a laboratory or trials in humans – and a realistic time frame for any new treatment or technology.
  • On health risks, include the absolute risk whenever it is available in the press release or the research paper – ie if “cupcakes double cancer risk” state the outright risk of that cancer, with and without cupcakes.
  • Especially on a story with public health implications, try to frame a new finding in the context of other evidence – eg does it reinforce or conflict with previous studies? If it attracts serious scientific concerns, they should not be ignored.
  • If space, quote both the researchers themselves and external sources with appropriate expertise. Be wary of scientists and press releases over-claiming for studies.
  • Distinguish between findings and interpretation or extrapolation; don’t suggest health advice if none has been offered.
  • Remember patients: don’t call something a “cure” that is not a cure.
  • Headlines should not mislead the reader about a story’s contents and quotation marks should not be used to dress up overstatement.

Wrangling bad pop-science journalism.

About these ads

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s