Recent articles by Alice Park (@aliceparkny and Dr Ambar) on two websites , Time.com and healthunits.com, jumped to such far conclusions I only thought it fair to do the same by writing the above headline on this blog post. I used a fact or 2 (their headlines were factually wrong) and exaggerated that to include all headlines ever.
I could have gone further and said something like “Writers Paid to Put Readers’ Health in Jeopardy.” But that wouldn’t be QUITE the same thing, though it would be similar enough.
This problem of absolute lies/untruths/incorrect information being out there once is then exacerbated by these articles still existing. No corrections that I found, no one really complaining, no one fired. So apparently this is okay now in journalism. I’m not sure how major “healthunits” is, but “Time” has been around a while. Maybe I shouldn’t assume these “writers” are journalists who actually consider ethics to be, you know, a thing.
Let’s say they did this about, oh I don’t know, fashion. Big deal, right? It’s not going to affect anyone’s decisions that could hurt them except maybe to wear something that is out of style. But when you write factually wrong headlines about a major disease–this can cause people to make wrong decisions about their, or their children’s, health. So to say that the writers hurt people would be really reaching, of course, and probably libel. But they definitely COULD hurt people with these headlines; the same can be said for the articles, although they are not AS bad. I don’t absolve these writers, though, either because they seem to have done very little research on a subject that should be written about very carefully.
Here are the headlines regarding a trial on long-term antibiotics in Lyme disease.
Alice Park/Time.com: “Treating ‘Chronic’ Lyme with Antibiotics Doesn’t Work: Study.”
Dr. Ambar/healthunits.com: “Antibiotics Prove Useless in Lyme Disease Treatment.”
First of all, the writers of the research paper also exaggerated their findings. So I’m guessing these “writers” did not do any other homework and took the research paper’s writers at their word. These days, even I know that’s not the best idea. Since when do reporters do this? Aren’t they supposed to verify information? I know not everyone can understand research studies, but there are other ways to find information, say a counterpoint on the study maybe? There are quite a few out there.
Not only did the antibiotics used in this study help some patients, the fact it didn’t help them all should not negate using/trying any other antibiotic (or combination) in any patient ever again. That’s just stupid science.
So the above-used headlines go further than even the exaggeration of the paper’s authors. These headlines suggest that antibiotics given to any Lyme patient (or chronic Lyme patient) won’t work (including giving them antibiotics at the start of disease). Even the paper’s authors disagree with that statement. I don’t know anyone who ever stated Lyme should never be treated at the beginning of diagnosis. But the headlines suggest this outright.
The facts are pretty clear when you have been following this disease as long as many have been. It obviously is not clear to these writers or headline writers. I can understand this– to a point. It is a very complex subject even before you get to all the DNA stuff. But these type of “absolute” headlines and articles about a subject that is far from being understood completely by anyone (yes, even the researchers) is never a good idea.
The only options available to the writers/websites to explain these headlines is to either admit they wanted to misrepresent the findings of the research or admit they didn’t understand the research.
Or they could ignore it all and hope neither one of my proposed headlines comes true.