Meta science reporting

Ben Goldacre has a piece on media coverage of health and medical research.

1. Mostly, press coverage is pretty poor.

He cites a US study
“After almost two years and 500 stories, the project has found that journalists usually fail to discuss costs, the quality of the evidence, the existence of alternative options, and the absolute magnitude of potential benefits and harms.” (Schwitzer, 2008 )

2. It affects people’s behaviour. (Kylie Minogue public health effect)

3. It affects scientists. “if a study was covered by The New York Times it was significantly more likely to be cited by other academic papers.”

Read the Bad Science column in The Guardian edition. No links,  no comments  *: the print version to read on screen.

Now, read the same column in Ben’s Bad Science blog. Referenced and linked. Easy to look up the Schwitzer article and other sources he cites. There is also a debate in the comments to his post which manages to remain largely on topic for more than 20 entries and includes some useful sources.

Comments remain largely on topic for more than 20 entries. How often does that happen? In itself, a blogosphere phenomenon worthy of study.

[ * Correction: about 200 comments. My mistake. But lots of them are completely off topic.]

How Do US Journalists Cover Treatments, Tests, Products, and Procedures? An Evaluation of 500 Stories
PLoS Med Gary Schwitzer article

Public Library of Science
PLoS Med


9 thoughts on “Meta science reporting”

  1. … and, my reply should be in the Comments thread, but I’ve replied here.
    Shall we continue this discussion in the newly open and democratic Comments thread?

  2. Sure. A Wiki may be the best option to have the cross-linking you mention and keep everything in one place, though I think we would need to define group membership re who can make edits. Wikis can be a bit difficult to navigate.
    We could also explore Trackbacks within WordPress. That is where you comment in your blog and link to the original piece. Not such a group thing, though.

  3. This I guess id the real problem with blogging – Someone writes an article,which gets followed up with an extra comment (or two). before you know it, the topic has wandered into the realms of discussing interfaces, Trolls and wandering off topic 🙂 . What we need is the ability to link comments made in one post to another, so that there is a multiple train that can be followed, thus allowing the new topic (which could be very interesting) to be pursued without interruption…

    Just a thought..??

  4. I think you already have suggested it. Which is fine.
    Personally, I’m cautious about open access for comments- trolls, people who don’t read, rants, conspiracy theorists, misunderstanding- so I’m sticking with prior approval.
    Students are responsible for maintaining their own blogs, so it’s up to them.

    Comments work fine in the Nature/Science blogging threads, but there you have a community of readers, real-world social networks, registration… all reinforcing good behaviour.

    And the user interface of blog comments and threaded forums is rubbish for discussion anyway. Don’t you think? People have to work hard to make the software work for them. The interface doesn’t support discussion, it just-about-allows-it.

    There. I’ve drifted off-topic, which is some sort of proof.

  5. Thanks – but you may want to suggest to your students that they turn off having to automatically approve each comment on their blogs, it’s a pain for them & makes discussion between commenters difficult.
    Wordpress has a pretty good spam filter as is.

  6. Thanks, brainduck. I’ve corrected the entry.
    On this blog, we only have thoughtful and intelligent readers.

  7. Space, I’m told.

    You might find this event interesting:

    I’m hoping to show up.

    The Guardian piece actually has 100+ comments, though (sadly, as with all the BS Guardian columns) rather a lot of them are from an odd person who goes by the name ‘Pluralist’. Trolls are a nuisance on the Internet, and the Guardian column attracts enough readership that someone’s always going to be unaware of the backstory and feed them – it’s annoying.

  8. Ben mentions that he supplies the Guardian with weblinks, but they don’t use them. I guess it is Guardian editorial policy.
    Close thing with deteriorating into ad hominem attacks though- Daily Mail and Guardian mentioned in the same thread … wobbles, then recovers.

  9. Not only were the majority of the comments on topic, but they also seemed (at a quick scan) to be relatively balanced and not derrogetory towards the previous writers – again a very rare thing on forums and email chains (can’t really comment on blogs, as I am new to them).

    I guess that having links on the Guardian website would not be a practical thing, as it is a ‘soft copy’ of the paper. However, why would Ben not put the same citations in the paper that are in his Bad Science site – is this an editorial descision due to space constraints?

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