Screen baby, screen — News coverage of new mammography guidelines

 BHN is a big fan of the health news blog produced by fellow health writer/journalism prof Gary Schwitzer at the University of Minnesota. And while we hate gratuitous attacks on the so-called “lamestream” media, there is a lot of really, really bad health reporting out there. Schwitzer follows and rates the coverage and he is always spot on.

So, check out his comments on the coverge of the new mammography guidelines, which brought out the worst in health journalism.  He calls it the “screen, screen, screen mentality.” 

Start with his “10 things that stand out from the mammography week to remember (forget?)”

Many of us might rather move on and end all of the discussion about the US Preventive Task Force’s mammography recommendations last week. But I think it’s essential that we reflect on ten things that stand out from last week:

1. Many in the general public (most of those quoted in news stories) are not prepared for evidence to be used in making health care recommendations. They haven’t been prepared by the health care industry, by their physicians, or by the news media. 

2. Many in health care (many of those quoted in news stories) are too invested in their own preferences to allow evidence to make a difference in their practices.

3. There is an undeniable and clear bias in many news stories, reporters and news organizations for promoting screening – evidence be damned. I’ve reported on this before and last week provided overwhelming new evidence. (Mind you – I said “many”, not “all.”)

4. The USPSTF, which is a collection of independent experts, has no public relations arm. They simply review the evidence and publish their recommendations.

5. The public relations machinery of the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology – and other groups that opposed the USPSTF recommendations – helped the anti-USPSTF message rule the media all of last week.

6. Politicians chimed in – sometimes distorting the evidence beyond all recognition. The clash between politics and science at such times is predictable and disgusting.

7. The rhetoric used to oppose the USPSTF recommendations was the ugliest and most ill-founded I can remember.

8. There was some excellent journalism done on the issue last week, but it was overwhelmed by and drowned out by the drumbeat of dreck shoveled out by many news organizations – including in much (not all) of what was provided on network TV.

9. The week may have caused harm to the nation’s discussion of health care reform.

10. The week was certainly a setback for the nation’s understanding of science, of evaluation of evidence, of the potential harms of screening tests.

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