Journalists Are Wrong About Health

A basic guide to understanding why most news articles get the science wrong

Health: Harder than it looks.

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Every day, you see a story in the news with a headline that says something like “Study Makes Amazing/Horrifying Discovery That Will Change Your Life.” It’s a story that has been played out a million times in every publication in the world.

And they are virtually all wrong.

You are being misled. No one is lying, but they might as well be. Through ignorance, exhaustion, overwork, and simply not giving a shit, journalists all over the world have been selling you a story about your health that is simply meaningless.

Not right. Not wrong. Meaningless. It might as well be made up entirely.

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Pictured: science journalism.

In this series, I’m going to walk you through some of the basic mistakes people make when they write about the science of health. You’ll learn why bathtubs are actually pretty terrifying, and why being afraid of shark attacks makes no sense at all. You’ll see how the most basic theoretical research can be hyped to the point that people around the world think it is a definitive guide on how to live their life. You’ll understand why doctors rarely change their practice based on a single study, even if the researchers find a significant effect.

At the end of this series, you won’t be an expert. You may not be able to professionally analyze a scientific study or grasp half of the theoretical basis for a scientific theory. Being a professional scientist takes years of experience, and no one is going to become an expert from reading a short series of online articles.

But you will be a damn sight better at reading science than the vast majority of journalists who write silly stories that don’t add up. By the end, you’ll know enough to look at a news story about “That Big New Scary Study,” frown, and say, “That doesn’t sound quite right.”

And usually, that’s all it takes.

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Read the first installment:

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