Anyone who is interested in science and, perhaps more importantly, the dissemination of scientific knowledge through the press should, and probably does, read Ben Goldacre’s columns and book “Bad Medicine”. This column highlights a small but incredibly important point. Proper editorial scrutiny requires completely open and transparent referencing of all primary sources. Journalism, it would seem, does not. Headlines sell papers and are designed to grab our attention. This requires that they are short, punchy and eye grabbing. This does not lend itself to being accurate. The two most important words to look out for in headlines are “may” and “could”. “The sun could explode tomorrow; say scientists” is technically correct but absolutely meaningless.
When ever you read a health story in the papers we should always look for the primary source- if it not fully and accurately listed then ignore the story. If it is then go a read the source and see if you agree with the journalists interpretation. The days of believing something just because it was in the papers are long gone and the internet has given us an opportunity to scrutinies our “teachers” more than ever. Enjoy!