Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Science Reporting

I've been interested by a slight change that's been happening recently in science and medicine reporting. I've only noticed it in online AP articles, but perhaps those of you who watch TV or read other news sources can tell me how widespread the phenomenon is.

An example is this article. Like most science reporting I've seen, it mentions the results of the study, where the study was published, and a one-sentence "take-away" message from an "expert" in the field.

Unlike most science reporting I've seen, it mentions the methodology of the study and its source of funding.

I think this is an important step nearer to the sort of transparency that should characterize the communication of science to non-specialists. I have noticed several popular health trends for which the warrant was a single, poorly-designed study (or rather, ones for which the study was not designed in a manner which suggested an appropriate or effective course of action), inadequately or inaccurately reported by popular news sources.

Having the methodology and the potential for bias spelled out so clearly as in this article is a real service to the health consumer, as well as the merely-interested-in-medical-science non-scientist.

I've also noticed that the AP is being more transparent about the relationship between their "expert" sources and those who might have an interest in how a study is reported. Such an example does not appear in the article I linked above, but I've noticed many "expert opinions" tagged with such phrases as "suggests so-and-so, who was not involved in the study" or "commented so-and-so, who had not yet read the report in its entirety."

Again, this seems like a promising and appropriate move toward more transparency. Good thing, that.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Fascinating observations. I agree with your evaluations.

Have you noticed funding disclaimers on studies that had positive results for mainstream (i.e. big pharma) treatments? The honey board sponsorship would sound the conflict of interest alarm in any competent journalist's mind. But the bigger problem, I think, is the gross underfunding of research into non-pharmacological (or non- NEW, and therefore patentable and highly profitable, pharmacological) treatments.

I suppose that adequate treatment of the funding system for research in the US would require stand-alone reportage; you couldn't do it in a couple of paragraphs in an article about an individual study. But the disclosure is definitely a step in the right direction.