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How far should we trust health reporting?

If health-risk information in newspapers is routinely misleading, there are real-world consequences

After years of threats, abuse, complaints with forged documentation, crude attempts at blackmail and more, I can tell you that journalists can be quite sensitive about criticism. But there is one valid objection to this column: that I cherry pick the worst examples to write about.

This, of course, is true. When scientific claims are wrong, they're often interestingly wrong. That makes them a good teaching tool to explain how real science works. But there's also a broader worry. People make real-world health-risk behaviour decisions based on information from newspapers, and if that information is routinely misleading, there are real-world consequences.

So how much reporting, overall, is unreliable? To find out, you'd have to take a systematic and unbiased sample – perhaps a whole week's worth of stories – and then check the evidence behind every claim. This would be an enormous job, but a new paper in the journal Public Understanding of Science does exactly that. I'm in a strange position to be writing about it, since the study was my idea, and I'm one of the authors.

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Analysis: Why it’s irrational to risk...

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Analysis: Why it’s irrational to risk women’s lives for the sake of the unborn

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Double helix showing coplanar alignment of standard base pairs.

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CLAUDIA DREIFUS - New York Times 15 Comments

Carson C. Chow deploys mathematics to solve the everyday problems of real life. As an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, he tries to figure out why 1 in 3 Americans are obese.

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- - MedicalXpress 27 Comments

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Neurons Mirror the Diametric Mind

Schizophrenics amplify neuronal mirroring, autistics reduce it

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How thinking about death can lead to a good life
Thinking about death can actually be a good thing. An awareness of mortality can improve physical health and help us re-prioritize our goals and values, according to a new analysis of recent scientific studies. Even non-conscious thinking about death – say walking by a cemetery – could prompt positive changes and promote helping others.



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Ben Goldacre - 10 Comments

Pulling bad science apart is the best teaching gimmick I know for explaining how good science works

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If you have a serious new claim to make, it should go through scientific publication and peer review before you present it to the media

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Ben Goldacre - Guardian 7 Comments

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