How to Read the News

Loved this article. It is from PubMed. It was written about health news, but can be applied to any news story. Link

By Dr Alicia White

From “Behind the Headlines”, provided by NHS Choices (from England’s National Health Service).

News on Q

If you've just read a health-related headline that has caused you to spit out your morning coffee ("Coffee causes cancer" usually does the trick), it's always best to follow the Blitz slogan: "Keep Calm and Carry On". On reading further, you'll often find the headline has left out something important, such as, "Injecting five rats with really highly concentrated coffee solution caused some changes in cells that might lead to tumours eventually. (Study funded by The Association of Tea Marketing)".

The most important rule to remember is: don't automatically believe the headline. It is there to draw you into buying the paper and reading the story. Would you read an article called, "Coffee pretty unlikely to cause cancer, but you never know"? Probably not.

To avoid spraying your newspaper with coffee in the future, you need to analyse the article to see what it says about the research it is reporting on. Bazian (the company I work for) has appraised hundreds of articles for Behind The Headlines on NHS Choices, and we've developed the following questions to help you figure out which articles you're going to believe and which you're not.

Does the article support its claims with scientific research?

Your first concern should be the research behind the news article. If an article touts a treatment or some aspect of your lifestyle that is supposed to prevent or cause a disease, but doesn't give any information about the scientific research behind it, then treat it with a lot of caution. The same applies to research that has yet to be published.

Is the article based on a conference abstract?

Another area for caution is if the news article is based on a conference abstract. Research presented at conferences is

Headline News (song)

often at a preliminary stage and usually hasn't been scrutinised by experts in the field. Also, conference abstracts rarely provide full details about methods, making it difficult to judge how well the research was conducted. For these reasons, articles based on conference abstracts should be no cause for alarm. Don't panic or rush off to your doctor.

Was the research in humans?

Quite often, the "miracle cure" in the headline turns out to have only been tested on cells in the laboratory or on animals. These stories are regularly accompanied by pictures of humans, which creates the illusion that the miracle cure came from human studies. Studies in cells and animals are crucial first steps and should not be undervalued. However, many drugs that show promising results in cells in laboratories don't work in animals, and many drugs that show promising results in animals don't work in humans. If you read a headline about a drug or food "curing" rats, there is a chance it might cure humans in the future, but unfortunately a larger chance that it won't. So there is no need to start eating large amounts of the "wonder food" featured in the article.

How many people did the research study include?

In general, the larger a study the more you can trust its results. Small studies may miss important differences because they lack statistical "power", and are also more susceptible to finding things (including things that are wrong) purely by chance.

You can visualise this by thinking about tossing a coin. We know that if we toss a coin the chance of getting a head is the same as that of getting a tail - 50/50. However, if we didn't know this and we tossed a coin four times and got three heads and one tail, we might conclude that getting heads was more likely than tails. But this chance finding would be wrong. If we tossed the coin 500 times – i.e. gave the experiment more “power” – we’d be more likely to get a heads/tails ratio close to 50/50, giving us a better idea of the true odds. When it comes to sample sizes, bigger is usually better. So when you see a study conducted in a handful of people, treat it with caution.

Did the study have a control group?

There are many different types of studies appropriate for answering different types of questions. If the question being asked is about whether a treatment or exposure has an effect or not, then the study needs to have a control group. A control group allows the researchers to compare what happens to people who have the treatment/exposure with what happens to people who don't. If the study doesn't have a control group, then it's difficult to attribute results to the treatment or exposure with any level of certainty.

Also, it's important that the control group is as similar to the treated/exposed group as possible. The best way to achieve this is to randomly assign some people to be in the treated/ exposed group and some people to be in the control group. This is what happens in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) and is why RCTs are considered the "gold standard" for testing the effects of treatments and exposures. So when reading about a drug, food or treatment that is supposed to have an effect, you want to look for evidence of a control group, and ideally, evidence that the study was an RCT. Without either, retain some healthy scepticism.

Did the study actually assess what's in the headline?

This one is a bit tricky to explain without going into a lot of detail about things called proxy outcomes. Instead, bear in mind this key point: the research needs to have examined what is being talked about in the headline and article. (Somewhat alarmingly, this isn't always the case.)

For example, you might read a headline that claims, "Tomatoes reduce the risk of heart attacks". What you need to look for is evidence that the study actually looked at heart attacks. You might instead see that the study found that tomatoes reduce blood pressure. This means that someone has extrapolated that tomatoes must also have some impact on heart attacks, as high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks. Sometimes these extrapolations will prove to be true, but other times they won't. Therefore if a news story is focusing on a health outcome that was not examined by the research, treat it with a pinch of salt.

Research Team

Who paid for and conducted the study?

This is a somewhat cynical point, but one that's worth making. The majority of trials today are funded by manufacturers of the product being tested - be it a drug, vitamin cream or foodstuff. This means they have a vested interest in the results of the trial, which can potentially affect what the researchers find and report in all sorts of conscious and unconscious ways. This is not to say that all manufacturer-sponsored trials are unreliable. Many are very good. However, it's worth seeing who funded the study to sniff out a potential conflict of interest.

Should you "shoot the messenger"?

Overblown claims might not necessarily be down to the news reporting itself. Although journalists can sometimes misinterpret a piece of research, at other times the researchers (or other interested parties) over-extrapolate, making claims their research doesn't support. These claims are then repeated by the journalists.

Given that erroneous claims can come from a variety of places, don't automatically assume they come from the journalist. Instead, use the questions above to figure out for yourself what you're going to believe and what you're not.

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Comments

    • ☯Tao☯
    • December 9, 2013
    Reply

    Do People Who Read News Papers Often Enjoy Feeling Better Off Then People In The News Stories? How often it is a type of sadistic pleasure for some to read the news paper and why?

    how common and what kinds of stories? tabloid news or worse kinds of news?
    ?

    what makes people this way? and why?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      Don’t really understand this question. I can’t see how I can possibly feel “better off” than someone in the News who is a multi-millionaire ! And most people “in the News” seem to be coniderably “better off” than I am ! Nor do I understand how “sadistic pleasure” comes into it.

      View Comment
    • Amit sharma
    • January 8, 2014
    Reply

    What Is The Benefit Of Reading Newspapers, Watching News Channels? I have always been listening by people and elder ones that we should watch news and should read news papers. I wanna ask that what is the benefit? Plz tell me. Help would be appreciated. Thanks

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      None that I can think of.

      View Comment
    • ☯Tao☯
    • January 10, 2014
    Reply

    Which Percentage Of Adults DONT Watch Or Read The News Hardly Ever? How depends on person maybe and why? which do like it?

    also, is there usually a big difference between local news and international or national news? why, and how this is?

    why people like reading news stories such as gang violence and other crime news? or what the city is spending money on, etc?

    please explain wat you can..HOW IS IN THE UK ? HOW IS IN THE USA? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE MAYBE? HOW SO? AND WHY?

    thanks for your answers!

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      37% per cent do not watch TV news or listen to Radio news. 33% watch news on TV and 29% of those who do watch BBC TV news. 19% do listen to radio news and of those 11% listen to BBC radio news and 7$ of those who do also listen to commercial radio news broadcasts. 63% of people asked (ie 2,100 male/female mix) if the ever paid any attention to the news said they got their news from both TV and newspapers. Only 23% said the newspapers alone but 56% said TV alone while waiting for the next entertainment programme. Of this number 41% said they only watched the last bit of the TV news just before the weather and that was usually a funny story about a cat who ran away from a mouse.

      View Comment
    • Suresh b
    • January 21, 2014
    Reply

    How Much Is Too Much For Reading Books? Many people read news papers.Some people read essential books. Few people read novels and very few read historical and spiritual books.Question is How much is too much and Too much is how much for an individual or to a common man?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      There is NEVER too much reading. Being informed on a wide variety of subjects is the key to being a well-rounded intelligent individual. What’s most important is WHAT you read versus how much. I read a variety of newspapers from varying viewpoints and arrive at my own conclusions on the matter at hand. Many publications write in a way that expresses their own views- it is important to arrive at your own conclusions.
      – You should always read as much as you can.

      View Comment
    • Marilyn
    • January 26, 2014
    Reply

    POLL: What Is Your Opinion Of Major News Networks, And How They Deliver International News? Where do you obtain the majority of your knowledge about international affairs? Do you feel comfortable with hearing news from ex-pageant winners rather than from real journalists (Robin Meade from CNN is an example of someone who is not educated to deliver the news)? Do you think that CNN and FOX are reputable news agencies? Do you think news outlets should be held personally responsible for reporting false information? Do you feel that news should be unbiased, regardless of what is considered politically correct? Do you ever question the legitimacy of your news provider? Do you watch/read news passively?

    I just want to know your opinions of how news is being delivered and if you feel they are doing an adequate job at doing this. I have too many questions to post all separately!

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      I read reports from news services that is not available for free to the public. All media outlets reflect the political leanings of its controlling shareholders. And the all think that they are the purveyors of truth and wisdom. I would not rely on any mass media outlet for an analysis of news because it is tainted by some political point of view.

      View Comment
    • Kendraaa
    • February 1, 2014
    Reply

    Do You Watch Or Read The News? Even on Yahoo??

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      I think i got a slight addiction to the news =P I watch it every time it is on BBC One and i read most newspapers and i read the news on Yahoo as well. I am 16 and i am already doing that. What an exciting life i lead =D

      View Comment
    • Revathy
    • February 23, 2014
    Reply

    Did You Read This News? What’s Your View? Massive solar storm to hit Earth in 2012 with ‘force of 100m bombs’ – Yahoo! India News

    http://in.news.yahoo.com/139/20100826/981/tsc-massive-solar-storm-to-hit-earth-in_1.html

    No jokes pl, give rational answers. Thanks

    View Comment
      • Admin
      • February 23, 2014
      Reply

      I have read this news. A geomagnetic storms affects technology, not life. “No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today's digital-reliant society.” (1)

      "The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years, (on technology)" News.com.au quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.

      This cycle is the normal state of the solar system. “The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as Solar Cycle 24. “(1) Those affected most: namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone working with modern GPS systems are taking this upcoming event very seriously.

      I have extra food and water in case technology is temporarily disrupted or a disaster strikes. I am taking no exception to this news. Thanks for the question and allowing others to realize there is nothing to fear.

      View Comment
    • Holiday Magic
    • February 26, 2014
    Reply

    Where Do You READ News (online , Newspaper ,other??
    Step In Lounge?
    When eating breakfast out?
    whatever…where do you read news?

    View Comment
      • Admin
      • February 26, 2014
      Reply

      I read the news all day. I get email alerts from several publications. Associated Press runs almost everything in the mainstream.

      Fringe groups will put a different spin on things, but I can do that for myself.

      Here’s my usual portals:

      From the right
      http://www.usnews.com/

      From the left
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/

      From the middle
      http://www.religionandpolicy.org/

      And, for my own enjoyment
      http://www.military.com/

      View Comment
    • The Mad Hatter
    • March 3, 2014
    Reply

    How Do You Read Your NEWS Everyday? Newspaper?
    internet?
    through someone?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      Internet, I check IMDB for movie news as I mainly read about popular culture. Sometimes the news is on during my lunch break on the tv. I have the radio on all day, so I hear through there and of course I talk to people about it as its a good way to communicate.

      View Comment
    • TomCruise
    • March 16, 2014
    Reply

    Do You Read The News Paper? Do you still read the news paper? I don’t know about you but I prefer online news, its constantly updating. And you don’t have to throw any thing away. Still i get constant calls from the local paper trying to get me to sign up, don’t you think online will put them out of buisness ?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      I read a paper everyday…it gets delivered to my house..online you don’t get all the “local” news like you do from a paper…

      View Comment
    • Afsags a
    • March 22, 2014
    Reply

    Does Anyone 20 Or Younger Listen, Watch, Or Read The News? I have the idea that nobody reads the news anymore. i dont necessarily mean the newspaper, but even newspaper or radio.

    can anyone correct me or tell me if you do keep up with current events.
    online* or radio

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      My kids are 20 and younger, and I keep them up on the news. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t have a clue. When I was their age, I didn’t care about the news either. And even though I’m over 20, I’m not “nobody”, and I only get the news on the radio & online because all the other news is either OLD or a SHOW.

      View Comment
    • Queen Lauren IV
    • May 14, 2014
    Reply

    Where Do The News Anchors Read Their News From? Is it on a screen infront of them? Or is in on the papers they sometimes hold in their hands. Does it change from station to station?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      Virtually all anchors read from a device called a teleprompter.

      A teleprompter projects the script onto a pane of glass that the camera lens shoots through- that’s why the anchor can look right at the lens and read the words. Sometimes, the glass reflects a computer screen mounted underneath the glass. The same result is achieved, however. Most of the cameras in the studio will have this system mounted on it- this system is well-tried and rugged.

      Why use paper scripts? In case the prompter fails, stories get changed, breaking news occurs or some other unforseen calamity occurs that prevents the anchor from reading the correct words. A good anchor will always have the current paper script in front of them just in case.

      Unless there is a technical reason or just out of plain cheapness, every station I’ve been in during my 20 years of TV news has used this method.

      View Comment
    • Cindy
    • May 16, 2014
    Reply

    Would You Read News If It Were Upbeat And Encouraging? Everytime I read the newspaper or watch the news, I get depressed. 99% of it is bad news. I know that bad things happen and it is news worthy. However, there are also good things happening that apparently go unnoticed. I wonder if the media just supplies a demand of a daily dose of depression or do people just not find positive news stories interesting?

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      I would rather read or hear a feel good story any day. Some stations in my area have started adding one in their 1 hour news but it sure would be nice to hear more. The other night they profiled a story on 3 teens that ran into a burning home to save a disabled elderly neighbor. That was so much nicer to hear than other things we hear.

      View Comment
    • Revathy
    • May 22, 2014
    Reply

    Did You Read This News? What’s Your View? Massive solar storm to hit Earth in 2012 with ‘force of 100m bombs’ – Yahoo! India News

    http://in.news.yahoo.com/139/20100826/981/tsc-massive-solar-storm-to-hit-earth-in_1.html

    No jokes pl, give rational answers. Thanks

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      I have read this news. A geomagnetic storms affects technology, not life. “No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today's digital-reliant society.” (1)

      "The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years, (on technology)" News.com.au quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.

      This cycle is the normal state of the solar system. “The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as Solar Cycle 24. “(1) Those affected most: namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone working with modern GPS systems are taking this upcoming event very seriously.

      I have extra food and water in case technology is temporarily disrupted or a disaster strikes. I am taking no exception to this news. Thanks for the question and allowing others to realize there is nothing to fear.

      View Comment
    • Doglas p
    • May 28, 2014
    Reply

    How Can You Read The News? Look at all of the nasty, evil, sinful, bad, things going on and that is wrote about. Can you even buy a news paper anymore? I sure can’t.

    View Comment
    1. Reply

      How do you know all these “things” are out there? Are you perhaps reading newspapers?

      View Comment

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