We're bombarded with dietary news that contradicts each other. Often, the science is right, but is rewritten to suit newsworthiness. In fact, a new study in 18 countries has found that a high-fat diet cuts mortality by up to 23 per cent. Why, then, does the media report all the conflicting reports about diet? What's the point of news when the truth is hardly ever in question?
Journalists fall for implausible claims
Researchers are investigating why health journalists often fall for implausible dietary claims. One study, published in 2012, claimed that eating cheese or yogurt daily may prevent death. A group of nutrition researchers has pushed for an end to such surveys. Researchers have also studied the use of misleading causal inference in media and academic articles. They found weak evidence in original studies, but overstated language in widely shared news stories.
The process of determining whether information is accurate has become increasingly difficult, and the media's shift towards the Internet has facilitated a climate in which information is hard to verify. Because of this, policymakers and journalists alike have increasingly adopted the notion of implausible deniability. While a journalist should be skeptical of dietary supplements and other health claims, he or she should never be led astray by one of these claims.
Journalists should not cover every animal research paper or case-control study
The use of animals in research stirs a host of emotions and prompts an array of opinions. The ethical issues that arise are complex, and reporters may choose to leave animals out of their stories instead. One recent World Conference of Science Journalists featured a session on the ethical and legal issues surrounding the use of animals in research. According to a recent poll of nearly 1,000 biomedical scientists, journalists should consider covering the work of scientists without covering every animal-study paper or case-control study in dietary news.
Despite the importance of accurate information, journalists must be able to distinguish between "scientific" studies and those that aren't. For example, a scientific study on a rat could produce a false conclusion based on the results of an elephant case-control study. If the animal-based study found that the rat was unable to survive, then it is not safe to consume that particular substance in humans.
It is essential to consider the research process behind each study. Although the results from one study are often conflicting, they are unlikely to affect behavior. A well-designed large study, involving hundreds of participants, is often more reliable. By asking seven questions, journalists can help readers assess the reliability of each health-related news story. For example, consider the weight of the evidence, and if there is a clear link between the two.
Furthermore, it is essential that reporters do not misrepresent scientific studies by including basic study facts and cautions. In a systematic evaluation of media coverage of major scientific meetings in North America, Steven Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz concluded that 87 percent of news stories omitted key details, while nine percent did not identify the subjects. Most news stories failed to mention the size of the study or reported the size in an ambiguous manner. Finally, only 40 percent of media stories included a quantification of the study's main result.
AMA empowers students to move medicine
The American Medical Association (AMA) is an influential force in the field of health care, convening over 190 state and specialty medical societies. Its mission is to advance medical education, promote professionalism, and lead in advocating for the health of all Americans. AMA students represent over 44,000 members nationwide from 144 accredited schools. AMA student members strive to lead by advocating for patient care, promoting health care quality, and advancing advocacy, leadership, and integrity.