A Doctor's Advice On How To Read Health News (And Know Whether It's Full of Crap)

Building a bit off the "conflusion" (Bravo, btw, insert) post from yesterday, I'm going to launch right into something near and dear to my heart: The way biased and badly done health journalism can really mess up the people who read it.

Biased and badly done are two very different things. I don't have data on this, but I think it's fair to say that, when the main-stream media (which, BoingBoing aside, includes me) gets a health story wrong, it usually isn't trying to be intentionally wack. Trouble is, whatever the intent, it leaves you--the reader--in the same place. Conflused.

Luckily, there are people working to help you. Like, for instance, the good folks at Behind the Headlines, a project of the British National Health System that does Q&A, myth busting and in-depth explanations on the science behind top health news. I first found out about this from Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog, which is, in itself, a great site everybody ought to be reading.

Dr. Alicia White, one of the aforementioned "folks" behind Behind the Headlines, has a wonderful primer on the questions you should be asking yourself every time you read health news. Until we police ourselves into doing a consistently better job, sorting the wheat from the chaff is (unfortunately) up to you. This will help. Plus, it's a fun read:

If you've just read a health-related headline that's caused you to spit out your morning coffee ("Coffee causes cancer" usually does the trick) it's always best to follow the Blitz slogan: "Keep Calm and Carry On". On reading further you'll often find the headline has left out something important, like "Injecting five rats with really highly concentrated coffee solution caused some changes in cells that might lead to tumours eventually. (Study funded by The Association of Tea Marketing)".

Evocative image courtesy Flickr user bdjsb7, under CC.