Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

How to properly read medical news and not let them fool you?

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
Related Topics
Related Posts