As you all know, medical studies reported in news media always, always have to be taken with a grain (or pound) of salt. They go through a long chain of command and are ultimately reported by someone who doesn’t know much about the study being reported and whose job is to make readers pay attention. Don’t Dumb Me Down examines this issue using three categories of scientific reporting, wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories.
The following quotes are from the scare stories section, but the entire article is fascinating. And is full of points that we, as the consumers of such news, should consider.
“[S]care stories are — of course — a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform the most crucial function for the media, which is selling you, the reader, to their advertisers.
“Once journalists get their teeth into what they think is a scare story, trivial increases in risk are presented, often out of context, but always using one single way of expressing risk, the ‘relative risk increase,’ that makes the danger appear disproportionately large. . . .”