Medical studies are a news staple, but when was the last time you read an actual study yourself? With so many different studies coming out all the time, journalists can only report on a small percentage of them. How are medical studies screened and selected for a news report?
On this episode of the “Where Did You Get This Number?” podcast, host Anthony Salvanto chats with CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula and medical producer Susan Schackman about what to look for the next time you see a medical headline.
Narula said that after deciding whether a study is relevant to the general audience, some of the important things to look for include who is funding the study, if it involved humans or animals, and if it changes medical practices in general.
“There is a lot of research that comes out, but is this something that’s going to change the practice of cardiologists or pediatricians or OB-GYNS?” Narula asked. “Then, it’s important for us to be explaining to people why.”
Sometimes there are medical studies and headlines being reported that Narula and Schackman don’t put on air, since they’re misleading or otherwise problematic. Schackman cited a headline from January claiming that Israeli scientists would cure cancer within a year.
“It [the experiment] was only conducted in mice one time. There was no actual data to support this,” Schackman said. “So people got very, very excited, and turns out it’s a big bust.”
Other times, if a lot of people are talking about a problematic study, Narula said they may report on the study not to highlight it, but to explain why it’s bad science and not applicable.
She also mentioned that even doctors can have a hard time understanding medical studies, so medical journals will have editorials accompanying studies to help doctors process the findings and put them into perspective.
“And so our job is to really take that [study] and lay it out in a way that’s understandable for people,” Narula explained. “How is it going to impact their life and should they change how they live?”
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Producers: Allen Peng, Luis Giraldo, Oscar Gonzalez
Host: Anthony Salvanto