Feb 11 2015

Chicken Little, Wishful Thinking and the 24 Hour News Cycle

chickenOne frightening and frustrating trend we’ve seen since the 24-hour news cycle became a reality (meaning – since we have all gotten used to, and expect, to get our news updated at anytime, day or night, everywhere) – credibility has taken a nose dive. We want to think we can count on the “facts” as reported, but too often they get blended with the not-quite-facts, the incorrectly extrapolated facts, the just-plain-wrong facts – and of course, pure fiction.

The “Who Can You Believe?” question became even more acute over the last week with the realization that NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who I have always liked and would still like to invite for dinner, thinks it’s OK to embellish the truth. If you would believe his stories, you would think he had been shot down in a helicopter or watched bodies floating in the New Orleans French Quarter after Katrina. Neither is true.

Now, Brian Williams doesn’t give patient empowerment advice.  But other so, and like Brian, they come across as so gosh-darn believable!  The problem is, sometimes they aren’t, and we have to do some due diligence to figure out when they are, or when they aren’t, when their advice is useful, and when it’s not, or even when it’s downright dangerous.

Do I think they are intentionally leading us astray?  Sometimes. Do I think they intentionally give us bad advice?  Sometimes.  Do I think we need to confirm their advice with another, more objective information?  You bet I do. Too often what we see is more Chicken Little or Wishful Thinking and not something we should put any stock in at all.

So where can we patients turn? How do we know what’s objective, what isn’t, what’s worthy of our time, and who we can believe?

That’s Gary Schwitzer’s entire focus – so let me tell you about Gary’s work.

Gary founded HealthNewsReview.org many years ago.  As a journalism professor, teaching his students how to write informational and objective news stories, he was appalled at the shift in direction being taken by large news organizations. That is – they glom on to “news” that isn’t really news, because they think it will catch someone’s eye (or ears) – and not because it’s really useful. Further, sometimes they simply regurgitate a press release from a pharmaceutical or medical device company, like “Research Shows that Our New Drug Cures Cancer!”  The problem is, too many people believe it.

But smart patients don’t believe any of it until they have investigated further and assessed its veracity.

I encourage you to take a look at Health News Review to see exactly the criteria Gary’s reviewers use to assess health and medical news stories. You might also be interested in his post about conflicts-of-interest among national TV anchors and medical correspondents. Eye-opening.

Gary’s criteria for assessing news stories are front and center, right on his homepage.  Additional information can be found here:  How to Assess Medical Studies

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Do you have advice or a story to share that illustrates this post?  Please share in the comments below.

Want more great tips for smart, empowered patients?
Read my book:  You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes (How to Fix Them to Get the Healthcare You Deserve)

 

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