Sense About Science have joined forces with NHS Choices Behind the Headlines to launch Healthy Evidence, a new online forum to help people understand the science behind health claims and connect them with expertise.
The Healthy Evidence online forum is a place for people to discuss health stories and share insights and useful sources to sort the beneficial from the bogus, the likely from the doubtful. Join the community here: https://healthunlocked.com/healthyevidence
Please encourage everyone to join the community to share insights on the science behind the health stories that hit the news.
The Healthy Evidence forum is part of our Ask for Evidence campaign.
Behind the Headlines monitor health stories in the mainstream media, examining whether the latest medical discoveries are really as exciting or as shocking as they seem. They show readers where the stories have originated, discuss the research itself, and assess the way in which it has been reported. Even if the study is of a high quality, it might have been presented in an exaggerated and misleading way.
The same red flags are raised time and time again. Does the story mention where the research originates? Does it express the statistics in a misleading way – giving relative risk without the absolute risk? Does it neglect to mention how many people were included in the study? Does it use a study on animals to claim effective treatments in humans?
The new forum even has a poll allowing you to vote for which of these issues frustrates you the most.
Venture beyond the big stories and it gets worse. Articles in health and lifestyle sections or in the local press often contain claims that would clearly be ruled misleading were they to appear in an advertisement. The journalist might simply have regurgitated a questionable press release. Or they may have gone so far as to interview a local quack or to try out an unproven therapy or fad diet, repeating the claims made by the practitioner.
But what if the evidence is lacking?
You could contact the journalist or the newspaper in question, but this does not mean they are obliged to take action. Indeed, they may be glad of the unexpected attention and the increased readership generated by online outrage.
Rather than just tweeting links to poor journalism, consider how it might best be tackled and perhaps visit the forum to share useful sources and tips. You could seek out critical follow up posts and share those. You might have written one yourself and wish to spread the word. Another strategy could be to find the website of the product or practitioner enjoying the publicity and check if the same misleading claims are appearing there. If so, they can be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority.
How to read health news Dr Alicia White, NHS Choices, 06/01/09
10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories Science Media Centre, 10/09/12
Sense About Science and NHS Choices launch new online forum Sense About Science, 20/01/14
Healthy Evidence Forum noodlemaz, Purely a figment of your imagination, 20/01/14