Some good news, and some that is not-so-good
Amanda Wilson writes:
Eight health stories have been reviewed on www.mediadoctor.org.au this month. Their subjects included milk allergy, zinc for colds, a vaccine for type 1 diabetes, the best diet, scans to detect early stage Alzheimer’s disease, a test for age-related macular degeneration (ADM), a new melanoma drug, and a preventative treatment for women at risk of developing breast cancer.
They were reported by media outlets including the ABC, SMH, The Age and Ninemsn.
Overall, the stories scored well with a 3.5-star average rating (a range of 2 – 5 stars).
The highest scoring story – with a rare 5-star rating – came from ABC Science Online and concerned early stage research into milk allergy. Our raters thought the reporters, Eric Schultz and Darren Osborne, interpreted the research well and presented a clear, comprehensive description of the findings. There was also excellent use of a local expert.
The story about a recent Cochrane Review update on zinc in colds also performed well in terms of consulting an independent comment. This aspect of reporting offers an added dimension of information to a story and although it may be challenging (and sometimes near impossible) for reporters on short deadlines to find someone to provide a comment, it’s worth it in terms of adding depth and quality to content.
A few of the more inadequate aspects of reporting included misinterpretation, as in the ABC PM story on a nasal vaccine for diabetes which was introduced it as “…a promising development for people with type 1 diabetes…” In fact, its use is aimed at preventing diabetes in people at risk of developing it – a completely different population. The story scored well on most other aspects but didn’t use an independent expert.
Two stories discussed the use of test for diseases which at this point in time are not able to be effectively treated. One was for early stage Alzheimer’s disease and the other was for early age-related macular degeneration.
Our raters struggle with the ethical questions underpinning the concept of testing for diseases with no available treatments – such as, are there benefits in knowing? They urge journalists to raise these concepts with researchers and manufacturers when covering these stories.
Stories that will soon be reviewed on the website include a new method of treating snake bites, a potential method of reversing diabetes, and a diagnostic technique that lowers the number of false readings in melanoma testing. Hope you can join us.