Why it matters where you get your news
New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) featured a study on the causes of cancer. NEJM is a reliable and well-respected scientific journal. It is often the source of many news articles. However, downstream media has the ability to frame a study with a lens of its own. Take a look at some of the reported headlines regarding this article on the cause of cancer.
Half of headlines blamed genetics as the greatest contributing factor, the other half blamed environment or lifestyle. Headlines from Various News Sources
Why would news sources frame this research differently?
Newspapers and other news sources have owners and interests. For example, The Wall Street Journal must promote business or else they will lose advertisers thus causing newspaper to go out of business. News sources, owned by large companies, often have political ties or other partners. Conservative and liberal news sources are tied to their political backers as well as their advertisers.
Over-simplifying for your good
It is only human to try to simplify something in order to understand it. But are reporters and editors dumbing down the finding of studies for your own good? Paternalism does exist in our media. Some news sources think that explaining half the story is better for their audience-YOU- who may be confused be anything that is not black and white.
Over-simplifying is not always on purpose. Reporters and editors are not always experts in the field they are reporting on. Some doctors may not even be experts in the proper interpretation of complex study data. The above professionals may be exceptional at their respective jobs. However, if the study was conducted with the help of biostatisticians or epidemiologists with a PhD, it is possible that five or six years of doctoral education may require a trained mind to properly interpret to the public.
So Which Was it?
Both! The NEJM study reported that genetics and the environment contribute to one’s risk of getting cancer. Genetics can cause us to develop cancer without any fault of our own. Lifestyle and environmental risk factors can also cause cancer. The percent of risk or quantifiable causes of cancer depend on your unique situation including your age, sex, race/ethnicity and a wide variety of exposures. Exposures can be your occupation, diet, amount of physical activity, chemicals that have entered your body and more. Some of these increase the chance of you developing cancer, other decrease that risk.
Reading only half the facts will often lead you astray. The way the author frames can influence your opinion. Cooch Coach answers to you! We are here to help you make informed decisions by presenting all the facts. This does not mean we won’t have catchy headlines. But it does mean that when we report on a groundbreaking study, you will be presented with the whole picture.