Posts Tagged ‘media’

Trust, but Verify

November 12, 2009

Here’s a .pdf formatted article about how to read health news. A lot of information is out there; much more than when my parents were trying to learn all they could about their child’s defective heart. But with all this information, you also have to understand how the news media works: They’re like your easily panicked neighbor, the one who runs up to the fence and screams that the world is ending because he saw a mouse in the kitchen.

I had recently returned from Atlanta; but this wasn’t the “usual” trip to Atlanta to visit my Cardiologist. Two years earlier I had jokingly told a friend “If Atlanta gets to host the Olympic Games, I’m going!” They won the rights, and I started seriously thinking about what I had said. My friend and I sat down, made a plan, decided to split the cost and go.

We had been unable to book a hotel room, so we condensed everything into a one day trip. It was a whirlwind – our schedule was timed almost down to the minute – but we did it! We saw five different events, did some pin trading, and had a great time. That was Monday, July 22, 1996. Early in the morning of July 27 a bomb exploded in Centennial Park.

Someone called my grandmother.“They just blew up Atlanta! Everyone’s dead!” that person shouted, and hung up. Events would prove that “they” was one person (and no, it was not the security guard!) and “everyone” was a total of two people.

Two minutes later the phone was ringing at my house. “Your grandma is on the phone,” dad said, waking me from a deep sleep. “Get up and go talk to her, she thinks you’re in some kind of trouble.”

The news media is like that neighbor who called grandma, breathlessly spreading information that may or may not be true. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” Read the story closely to see what’s being reported – or what is missing. The .pdf link above give you a good list of what to look for. Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesota runs Health News Review, a website that grades medical news on the accuracy of the reporting. It’s very informative – like a good police officer, he only trusts the evidence.

Remember, the phrase is “Take care of yourself.” You are your own best advocate, no matter if you have a heart defect or an ingrown toenail.

A/H1N1 Flu Notes

July 16, 2009

This isn’t an “official” Swine Flu update, just some news links I’ve found over the last few days. The US State Department has issued a Travel Warning for China – The Chinese have instituted a quarantine for travelers who show fever or flu-like symptoms. The warning was issued because there have been reports that unaccompanied minors traveling in China have been quarantined, also. There have been more than 1300 cases of H1N1 reported in China, and the Los Angeles Times recently ran a first person account of Chinese quarantine procedures.

PalMD at White Coat Underground gives us an example of how a summer camp handled a H1N1 outbreak. Marc Siegel, writing in Slate, gives us a look at another camp… and you won’t believe how this outbreak got started.

In Great Britain, the P word doesn’t stand for Pandemic, but rather Panic… triggered by a government report and spurred on by the media.  This article’s headline implies that H1N1 is spreading at a phenomenal rate, but the third paragraph states that it’s not necessarily H1N1 – what’s spreading is Influenza-Like Illness (ILI). One may not be the other, but just reading the headline would make you think the world was ending.  Add a few dire predictions and suddenly you have people running in the streets. It’s to the point that prominent doctors are telling the Health Minister to shut up – ‘It’s almost like he’s been preparing for this pandemic flu for so long he wants it to be fulfilled.’

My crystal ball is cracked, so I can’t make any prediction on what H1N1 will do. But a full scale panic won’t help. This is a situation in which cooler heads need to prevail.