Sensationalism in Medicine

A jar of rock salt sits at the right hand corner of the rectangular picture, against a dark gray background.

I find a new study coming out practically every day. Many times, the studies actually contradict themselves.

Take the following two examples.

(1)

Studies show that postmenopausal women who take calcium reduce their risk of osteoporosis (see this Study). Great.

But it elevates your risk of cardiovascular disease (another Study). Ouch.

But wait, no, it doesn’t (yet another Study). Oops.


(2)

Testosterone repletion is wonderful for a man’s ailing libido (Here we go again-Study). Yeah!

But no, it’s harmful for your heart (another one: Study).  Ook.

Wait, maybe not (Last one? Study). Awe.

Actually, now a study shows estrogen increases libido! Eeek.


Everything Says Something Different!

Feels a little like we’re being bounced around the inside of a baby rattle. Except that it’s not a baby shaking us, but a scientist, and he’s cranking out research studies like weapons of mass destruction. Help! This happens to make for quite the geeky evil cartoon character, but I digress.

It gets frustrating, to say the least, especially for the primary care physician, a person that’s planted right in the heart of medicine, and needs to be at the cutting edge of up-to-date news. The doctor essentially becomes the spokesperson at the front lines, the soldier in the trenches.

I often compare it to sensational magazine cover headlines such as OK or People. The kind that shoppers pick up at the grocery store while in line to pay.

 

a woman peruses through the pages of a magazine

 

Headlines Read:

Brangelina get a divorce.

Jennifer Aniston has a baby.

Jennifer and Brad get remarried.

Jennifer and Angelina move in together.. Jangelina.

(That last one may sound far-fetched, but it’s going to actually say that at some point, just you wait)

 

A Research Crisis?

So how do we solve this new research crisis, if I may call it that for the sake of drama for this article. Or is it rather a crisis in reporting? Sensationalist propaganda?

We’ve known for a long time that social media can lead to misinformation, and that’s especially frightening in the field of medicine. But how do we stop this from happening? Or at least slow it down?

a woman stands in front of three men, holding a piece of tape. Their mouths are all taped and she looks to be angry

Why Does It Happen?

It may be an issue that’s deep rooted in academics, and the research fields in general. Scientists in research positions are constantly feeling the pressure to come out with new publications in rapid-fire succession. Often what this translates into are unnecessary studies and unnecessary results.

This further complicates matters for us, the doctors, of course. We must report back to patients and by then, as Ricky Ricardo famously said, we have some ‘s’plaining to do’.

Lucille Ball looks bewildered and guilty, staring ahead as Ricky Ricardo glares over her shoulder, saying, "Lucy, you have some 'splainin to do.'

Taking It With a Grain of Salt

What’s my best advice, for now? How do we cope with the plethora of info in an ever-changing society like ours?

We take things with a grain of salt, that’s how (or a spoonful of vegameatavitamin, if we’re already in an I-Love-Lucy-kind-of-mood).

Don’t believe everything you read, click into the research studies themselves and make informed decisions on your own about your health, not on the advice of a headline.

Afternote to the researcher: I appreciate wholeheartedly all the work you do. Please excuse this venting and take it simply as a means to air out my grievances. 

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