nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Media Headlines: Report The Facts Or Create A Story?

I saw a report that 30% of readers obtain their information by scanning only the title of an article.

So, it was depressing to see the following.  Both articles were written on the same day, reporting on the same research into the use of a drug for acne, called isotretinoin, or Accutane.

"Study: Major acne problem may raise suicide risk" (Wash Post, Nov 12).

"Acne drug not found to increase suicide risk" (BBC News, Nov 12).

If you parse the words, the titles can be compatible.  The first is referring to an association between acne and suicide risk.  The second is referring to the lack of association between the acne drug and suicide.

What's interesting is that the first news organization chose to highlight the more dramatic finding--and the one that was incidental to the purpose of the research--and the other organization highlighted the hypothesis (less dramatic) that was under investigation.

Major acne can contribute to despression, and depressed people are at greater risk of suicide.  This is a predictable and widespread general phenomenon:  people who have a disabling or disfiguring problem are at risk.  Not much of a surprise.

But the Washington Post thinks writing a dramatic headline will grab your attention better than reporting the study's actual results.

Among the 30% of readers who are headline scanners, the likelihood that they will read one or the other article, and form different conclusions, is random.

Yellow journalism lives.

Doc D

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