DMS experts help national journalists communicate clearly
That if your job description were to "rapidly process lots of complex, quantitative information which is often exaggerated and incomplete"? That's a pretty accurate encapsulation of the job of a health-care journalist, according to DMS's Dr. Steven Woloshin, a specialist in how medical information is explained to the public.
Media: He worries that much of today's media coverage of medicine "creates excessive enthusiasm and certainty about medical research" and perpetuates misinformation. He's doing more than just worry, though: he is is one of the organizers of an annual Medicine in the Media conference, which aims to help journalists cut through ambiguities and avoid passing them along to their audiences. The conference is cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health and Dartmouth.
Response: "We believe," says Woloshin, "that teaching journalists to use numbers and encouraging them to highlight cautions, [such as] study limitations, will go a long way in mitigating these problems." The response, he adds, has "been amazingly positive." Each year, about 50 print and broadcast journalists are chosen to attend from a competitive pool of applicants.
"The course served as a good primer," says one of this year's ataptendees, Barbara Brody, a health editor at Woman's Day. It "will help me better evaluate scientific research." Journalists must "question everything," says another attendee, Margaret Williams, an editor at Babytalk magazine. "It's important to accurately judge the findings of the research before delivering it to our readers—and this conference provided me with the tools I need to do so."
Participants have also come from such places as ABC News, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. The conference's Dartmouth sponsors are the Veteran's Affairs Outcomes Group and the Center for Medicine, the Media, and the Public (CMMP). Held alternately in Bethesda, Md., and Hanover, N.H., the event includes tutorials in statistical analysis and study design as well as lectures by experts on the challenges of health-care reporting. Woloshin and Dr. Lisa Schwartz, a fellow member of the DMS faculty, have played key roles in planning and teaching at the conference since its inception seven years ago; the two codirect the CMMP. For the past three years, they've been aided by another faculty member, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch.
The conference "is an amazing opportunity to work directly with journalists to teach them skills they need to help communicate the results of medical research to the public," says Woloshin. "It's lots of work, but it's really gratifying."
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