Perfect Example: The Simple Public Narrative Of Health and Science Coverage Often Obscures Complexity

Complexity. Many of us say we want it. Many of us complain about media coverage that avoids it.

But it”s hard not to notice that news about health — after it  is shaped and formed and telescoped into a form palatable for the general public —  often obscures a much more interesting,  if somewhat unsettling, scientific narrative.

We crave cures, dramatic discoveries, and individual stories of triumph over adversity.  But isn’t it just like the complexity and elegance of science to confound our desire for simplicity with ambiguous findings, uncertain remedies, and stories without neat and comforting endings?

Which leads to E. coli.

I know how many of my health science colleagues already knew about him this, but I’m even more curious about what percentage of the general public really understands the complexity and diversity of multiple strains of E. coli bacteria.  In  fact, there are hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli, many of which are harmless and some that are not.

Upton Sinclair Has Just Officially Risen from the Dead


This will be an interesting couple of weeks for the producers of ground beef.

Michael Moss has produced a masterful piece of investigative reporting in today’s  Sunday New York Times entitled “The Burger That Shattered Her Life.”

If someone had told me that a meat-grinding expose was coming, I would have assumed that, since  no inspection process is perfect,  problems would inevitably be discovered and reported.

But I never would have expected revelations about the content of ground beef that seem drawn from Upton Sinclair’s nightmarish early 20th century muckraking classic ” The Jungle.”

I mean,  we are talking about a serious “yuck-factor.”

Moss’s story is a brilliant combination of the poignant story of an individual victim embedded in a larger story about the shoddy and secretive system that was responsible for her sickness and paralysis. The story closely follows the specific lot of tainted meat that harmed the young woman from the various factories that produced it to her dinner table.  It is not a pleasant journey.

This is what a great reporter can do.