Knight Science Journalism Tracker

urbantravels

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Hi all,

I'm about to disappear into the holiday vortex for a bit, but I have an *excellent* project for someone else to take on. In the comments on this Daily Kos diary:

http://m.dailykos.com/stories/2010/12/23/931235/-.html

a commenter posted a link to the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, saying that they do fact checks on science journalism and have someone available who checks medical stories.

http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/

It seems to me that something could be made of the irresponsible way the "contamination" studies were reported as having "shown" or "demonstrated" that previous XMRV studies were due to contamination, and in an even more gigantic leap of logic, that the contamination studies showed that XMRV was not related to ME/CFS. The original egregious claims were made in the Wellcome Trust press release and in the comments of some of the researchers to the press, particularly the British press; and then they were picked up, amplified, copied, and re-tweeted around the world.

These claims that were made in the press not only sought to discredit the work of other researchers (including prostate cancer researchers, although interestingly the story was spun as being about ME/CFS and prostate cancer was rarely mentioned), but explicitly stated that any proposed XMRV/CFS link had been disproved by the new papers. Uncritically repeating these claims amounts to irresponsible journalism, in my book. It is especially important to note that these statements about what the research has "shown" were NOT made in the actual research papers published in Retrovirology, but were made in press releases and subsequent statements to the press by some of the researchers (while other members of the research teams, such as John Coffin, were much more measured in their statements to the press.)

Would anyone be interested in contacting the Knight people? If nobody else does, I'll try to get on it myself after the holidays.
 

urbantravels

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Oh hey, and look what I just found on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker website - a story featuring a good friend of ours with the initials TT!

http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/2010/12/16/chicago-tribune-off-balance-on-chronic-lyme-disease/

This is what happens when reporters make up their minds about a controversial story before beginning to write. In a Dec. 8 Chicago Tribune piece on Lyme disease, reporters Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos write that while Lyme disease is real, so-called “chronic” Lyme disease, said to last for years, “is an illness that might not even exist.”

That’s an arguable point, and a fair conclusion to come to–if the writers came to it fairly. But they follow that by saying, without attribution, that we live “in a golden age of dubious medicine,” and that “advocates can raise big money to ‘Unmask A Cure’ for a disease that already has a cure, and doctors disciplined by medical boards are held up as heroes.”

Then this:

"Fueled by suspicion of doctors and drug companies, Americans are flocking to alternative healers promoting risky treatments and unproven cures. The Internet connects pseudoscientists with the desperately ill, trumpets I’ve-been-cured testimonials and often dismisses the results of clinical trials as the work of unsympathetic doctors corrupted by Big Pharma money.

"Google “ALS” and “treatment” and results include a site touting deer antler therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Google “cancer” and “alternative treatments” and you’ll find a “grape cure,” among others. Message boards are packed with patients trading treatments, often including detailed prescription information."

It goes on. Note that none of this is attributed. The reporters are saying, in their own voice, that chronic Lyme disease belongs squarely with all kinds of risky and unproven cures for cancer and other ailments. With that kind of opening, most readers don’t have to wade any further through the reporting to know what conclusions the story is going to come to. The writers have conveyed their sneering skepticism without, so far, more than a few shreds of reporting. And none from anybody we might consider an expert on the disease.

Indeed, experts are scarce in this 3,000-word story (the count is for the web version). Callahan and Tsouderos are likely going to send me an irritated note enumerating the experts they quoted in the story, but there aren’t many of them, and none of them is quoted at length addressing the legitimacy of chronic Lyme disease.
 

WillowJ

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good for Knight Science!

haven't got the spoons for that just now... but I sure hope someone does :)
 

urbantravels

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All right, I have duly tipped the folks at Knight and have exchanged email with someone there. They may write something but haven't decided yet. I will let everyone know if they do.