“How to read articles about health” – by Dr Alicia White

September 16th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in guest writers, media | 31 Comments »

This is something that came up on the Five Live discussion with Lord Drayson at lunchtime today. Simon Mayo pulled out a front page story from the Express about a breakthrough cancer drug, and asked us what we’d make of it. Having not read it, I said I’d regard it with caution, because it might be true, but being on the front page of the Express is not necessarily a reliable predictor of something being true, as this story would attest, to choose just one example. Lord Drayson felt that was unfair, and that people can decide for themselves if a story is good or bad.

I think that’s optimistic, but we can certainly do something productive to give people a fighting chance. People often ask “how can I spot bad science in a newspaper article?” as if there were a list of easy answers, and it can be very difficult – given the lengths newspapers go to in distorting evidence, and witholding facts – but here is an excellent set of pointers. Read the rest of this entry »