NEWS: Journalism critique blog calls Chicago Tribune "off balance" on Lyme
The Knight Science Journalism Tracker is a blog for science reporters. Affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it critiques science reporting with the stated goal of helping science journalists improve their own performance. It looks at the Chicago Tribune's recent article about Lyme disease, which among other things, dismisses chronic Lyme as "non-existent." The blog takes the Tribune to task for not reporting the evidence, pro and con, and for not giving both sides equal time to speak.
From the Knight Science Journalism Tracker
By Paul Raeburn, Dec. 16, 2010
Chicago Tribune off balance on chronic Lyme disease
This is what happens when reporters make up their minds about a controversial story before beginning to write. In a Dec. 8 Chicago Tribune piece on Lyme disease, reporters Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos write that while Lyme disease is real, so-called “chronic” Lyme disease, said to last for years, “is an illness that might not even exist.”
That’s an arguable point, and a fair conclusion to come to–if the writers came to it fairly. But they follow that by saying, without attribution, that we live “in a golden age of dubious medicine,” and that “advocates can raise big money to ‘Unmask A Cure’ for a disease that already has a cure, and doctors disciplined by medical boards are held up as heroes.”
Fueled by suspicion of doctors and drug companies, Americans are flocking to alternative healers promoting risky treatments and unproven cures. The Internet connects pseudoscientists with the desperately ill, trumpets I’ve-been-cured testimonials and often dismisses the results of clinical trials as the work of unsympathetic doctors corrupted by Big Pharma money.
Google “ALS” and “treatment” and results include a site touting deer antler therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Google “cancer” and “alternative treatments” and you’ll find a “grape cure,” among others. Message boards are packed with patients trading treatments, often including detailed prescription information.
It goes on. Note that none of this is attributed. The reporters are saying, in their own voice, that chronic Lyme disease belongs squarely with all kinds of risky and unproven cures for cancer and other ailments. With that kind of opening, most readers don’t have to wade any further through the reporting to know what conclusions the story is going to come to. The writers have conveyed their sneering skepticism without, so far, more than a few shreds of reporting. And none from anybody we might consider an expert on the disease.
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