Here We Go Again: Study Published, Headline Appears, Study Not Read, Mayhem Ensues

Here we go again!

1. An article is published in a prestigious medical journal, say JAMA or Lancet.

2. Media coverage reduces what is likely a complex, nuanced article to one headline and several talking points.

3. Public reads the headline , and maybe a couple of the talking points , and — without reading further — applies the headline to their own experience.

4. Public  feels a) confirmed when the headline confirms their experience or b) threatened when it contradicts their experience.

5. Sometimes, without reading further and often without reading the study itself,  the wider public (and sometimes even specialists who should know better) rushes to the cultural barricades to proclaim either the wisdom or fallacy of the study.

6. Lay experts, or those who live with a condition of one kind or another mentioned in the article, speak in support or opposition to the article.

7. Cautious voices urging that the study be carefully read  are drowned out

8. Public conflict rages over findings that people still do not fully understand.

9. Original study setting off this chain of events remains largely unread.

10. People watching this unfold, perhaps people directly affected, become even more confused about whether there is anything they need to do in light of  the study.

11. Eventually a health care professional or first-rate health journalist publishes a careful analysis of what should and should not be safely concluded from the study.

12. This careful analysis remains buried in avalanche of claims and counterclaims that are now driving the public discussion of the study.

I mention this pattern for a simple reason. Perhaps this time, before the battle is fully joined and cacophony is at full volume,  we should read the study ( or read a careful analysis of the study) before we let the frenzy go too far.

I haven’t read it yet, but I will as soon as I am  done with this post.

“Diagnosing and Managing Common Food Allergies – A Systematic Review”
Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen, MD, MS; Sydne J. Newberry, PhD; Marc A. Riedl, MD; Dena M. Bravata, MD, MS; Margaret Maglione, MPP; Marika J. Suttorp, MS; Vandana Sundaram, MPH; Neil M. Paige, MD, MSHS; Ali Towfigh, MD; Benjamin J. Hulley, BS; Paul G. Shekelle, MD, PhD
JAMA. 2010;303[18]:1848-1856.

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