Every day, there is amazing news from the field of medicine. I believe that there are two reasons for that.
In the first place, physicians belong to the most successful scientists, I believe, because they experiment more than any other researcher. Other investigators (physicists) may design a theory and then tests to see if it is true in practice. Normally it is not because one can think much more freely and creatively than that nature has leeway to behave.
But medical doctors propose new theories and tests dozens of times a day. As patients come in, they investigate (complaints, histories, physical and lab exams), design theories about possible causes, and about the most likely preferred actions or inactions. Within a short time span, they’ll learn which of their hypotheses were right or wrong. Dozens of times a day.
I believe that therefore, medical science is the fastest science there is. But there is a second reason for much medical news. Individuals, labs, institutions, faculties looking for money and fame, creating a hype of fake hope and expectation.
How to distinguish these false reports from real medical news? Let me suggest a few simple but powerful questions to discover if a medical news report is genuine or not.
Every time one needs to answer one of the following questions in the affirmative, the report gets one more red flag and becomes more suspect of being fake. Have these caveats in mind when you scan medical wonders.
1. Is there a lot of emphases on which people or institutions are at the center of this news? You should be more suspicious when it is playing the chauvinist card, doing people or institutions of our city/country pride. Are they giving us pride or looking for fame? Are the researchers’ pictures more prominent than any illustration of the news they purport to report?
2. Could it be that there is no news yet besides the fictitious creation of hope that infusion of time would ‘probably’ produce breakthroughs?
3. Are they looking for sponsors, donors? Looking for cooperation could also be a way to avoid saying that they really need money.
4. Can you detect sentences with might, could, in the future, expect? Especially suspect are unproven theories that the ‘new find’ might cure or prevent general (and not specific) deadly diseases (cancer, dementia). A hype of miraculously saving the lives of you or your loved ones is suspect.
5. Is the article written or wholly dictated by the physicians themselves without any critical input by journalists who are knowledgeable and independent of the attention seekers? Do we miss corroboration from specialists in other cities or countries not involved in the study?
6. Are the conclusions based on statistics that defy common sense or that ‘prove’ what is obvious? “Women turn out to be the weaker sex after all because they are much more ill.” Yeah, but they are more sensitive and are less timid to complain and seek medical assistance. They get a decade older and thereby, also acquire more sick days overall. And being older, they will be frailer and more often sick too. But in any case, they get much older and therefore are stronger, not weaker. “Flu vaccines work better in winter.” Yeah, because in summer, there is little flu to cure.
7. Does the report contain any numbers and percentages? Reporters are notorious for being number-blind and math-deaf. Do the numbers fail to add up (pardon the pun)?
8. Is there no mention of any caution in interpreting or applying the findings too generally? They may only prove something for a distinct group of people or under very specific circumstances. Does the article fail to mention that the proof needs other studies that find the same? Are we missing any word about ambiguous findings, false-negatives, and false-positives, that statistics without a proven mechanism can indicate something but don’t attest a thing, that there are unsolved contradictions? In other words, does this seem an ad instead of a critical impartial text?
9. Is the report ‘exclusive?’ Is the news outlet looking for fame or money?
Not all news is news. Not all amazing facts are factual. The reader beware.