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The Problems of Health Journalism (Storify-ed)

Yesterday I wrote a post pondering a perennial topic in health journalism: How do journalists capture what’s new about a study without hyping its relevance in the general scheme of things? How do we avoid the embarrassing flip-flopping of health headlines?

The response from readers, both on the blog and on Twitter, has been robust and helpful. I created a Storify of the Twitter conversation and posted it below; I’ll try to update if/when the discussion continues. I also want to recommend two related resources:

Ed Yong’s recent talk about his career in science journalism, in which he explains why he has veered away from reporting on biomedicine and psychology.

Gary Schwitzer’s analysis of health stories appearing in major U.S. publications in the past seven years (published in the same issue of JAMA Internal Medicine as the resveratrol study that I mention in my post). The upshot: Health reporting could be much better than it is.

3 thoughts on “The Problems of Health Journalism (Storify-ed)

  1. This seems to be related to the Yong Loop again. It’s not the “good” journos and the “good” scientists that are the main issue in a lot of the cases. Although on some hyped stories, there may be overlap.


    It’s the aggressive misinformers that seem to me more disturbing. I was laughing with everyone else at the Jimmy Kimmel piece on gluten. But I don’t think that kind of outcome is driven by quality journalism–or even mediocre stuff. It’s the terrible routes of quacks and social media. And some of the top quacks are particularly aggressive and more appealing than somebody with actual statistics, unfortunately. I don’t have any idea how to solve that.

  2. Hi.

    I just heard you on NPR. Appreciate your comment about science being iterative. I think many people still think of it as solving one problem at a time.

    But my question is about your last comment. Did you say that 99% of research in the US is funded by the public? I hadn’t had any coffee, but did I hear that right? Can you expand, please? Just curious. 🙂

    1. I believe I said 90-some percent, because I didn’t actually know what the precise number was. But yes, the vast majority of basic medical research is funded by the NIH. Translational research and clinical trials are mostly funded by the pharmaceutical industry, though.

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