Evidence-based medicine makes for boring headlines and the media can’t cope.

The need for clear accurate communication about data and studies in health and science is highlighted this week in two big media stories.

One story about chocolate, the other about cervical cancer vaccines. Both show the danger of poor data interpretation by journalists. The former is a hoax, the latter may result in the avoidable deaths of women whose parents choose not to have them vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus as teenagers.

HPV and Cervical Cancer:
The UK’s Independent on Sunday’s front page headlined with link between the HPV vaccine and one girl’s serious illness. The article also says that the number of cases of serious side-effects from the vaccine are much higher compared to others. Statistician Adam Jacobs flags the concerns in the reporting, accusing the newspaper of scaremongering. Read the ongoing argument in the comments section. It’s very good.

Correlation does not mean causation is the fundamental concept to grasp. Just because two things occur close to one another, it does not mean one is caused by the other. I eat lunch every day. Eating lunch does not cause me to hug my children when I get home.

The story was also covered on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less: listen here (item begins at 8 min 19 sec). and is immediately followed by:

If you haven’t read about it already, the same program covers the story behind the chocolate experiment designed to deliberately fool the press. They bought it, hook, line and sinker — shame on them. And shame on us science communicators for not helping them report science better.

Originally published at conorato.tumblr.com.

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