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PlaneTree's website
February 2014
Spotting the News You Shouldn't Use

     In news reports, medical research seems to lurch wildly and erratically between findings. Facts "proven" today are "disproved" tomorrow. Why is that?
     Accurately communicating the results of medical research requires carefully Man frowning at a newspapernuanced language and scientific and statistical expertise. Misleading language and interpretive errors often creep in as a study travels from laboratory to polished news article.
     One sampling of health news coverage found that, in half of the reports, research results had been "spun" - by scientists, their employers' public relations departments, and/or the news media. For each of these groups, inadequate scientific and statistical expertise, carelessness, and/or a desire to magnify the importance of the research appeared to be contributing factors.
     You can learn to recognize certain common mistakes in news reports, even if you have no special medical or scientific training. Here are two related problems that you can often spot.

Problem #1:  Some studies do not merit the media attention they receive.
     Researchers who recently reviewed articles in five major American newspapers (including the San Jose Mercury News) Graphic re biological research found that the popular press is much more likely to write health articles based on lower quality research than on better studies. We assume that other types of media - radio, magazines, television, Internet - would make similar selections.

     Unsurprisingly, this particular study was neglected by most news media companies. You can access a brief summary and the original research article online. 
     How can you tell if an article is based on good science? It is not always possible, of course, but often there are tell-tale clues. Be alert for these elements as you read or watch stories on medical research.

Problem # 2:  News reports often strongly suggest a cause-and-effect relationship that has not been proven.
     An experiment's design depends on the scientist's question. Observational studies are designed to discover whether two phenomena tend to occur together more or less often than chance would predict ("Are people who eat A less likely to have Disease Y?"). Such studies do not explain why there is a difference. (People who eat A may be Finger pointing to a bar graphless disease-prone because they also exercise more.)

     Even though observational studies are usually of less significance than studies that demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, news outlets tend to favor them, as noted in Problem 1.
     Compounding this problem, many press releases, news reports, and headlines (and even some scientists) erroneously suggest that an observational study has discovered a cause-and-effect relationship ("Eat A to prevent Disease Y!"). It is very easy to misspeak when reporting on these studies, as a quick scan of this guide for journalists will help you appreciate.

     If you read about research which has simply observed that two phenomena often occur in tandem, remind yourself that the reason for the correlation is unknown.

     The economic survival of news organizations depends on attracting and keeping your attention. Researchers, universities, and other institutions must also prove their worth to maintain funding. These financial pressures, Remote aimed at a TVplus the complexities of accurately communicating study results, sometimes lead to distortions in medical news coverage.
     The next time your attention is captured by medical news, we hope you will be better able to gauge whether the research truly deserves your attention.

PlaneTree Health Lectures


     You are invited to our upcoming, English-language health lectures. Each will begin at 7 p.m. in Cupertino Community Hall, adjacent to the library.

   Sleep and Health - Wednesday, February 26
   Diabetes 101 - Monday, March 10

PlaneTree Health Info Center logo

Mandarin Speakers: Save These Dates!
     Our spring, Mandarin-language health lectures will address depression (Sunday, March 23) and post-trauma stress disorder (Sunday, May 4). Please share this flyer about the talks, co-sponsored by PlaneTree and the S. Ku Foundation.

News You Can Use 
Skin Care Worries
 Woman having a facial beauty treatment      You may want to read about safety concerns regarding laser hair removal and a common component in chemical peels if you use those treatments. Follow these links to learn more about chemical peels and the pros and cons of various options for removing unwanted hair.
Health Insurance & Mental Illness
Graphic of interlocked hands      The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has developed materials explaining how the Affordable Care Act will impact coverage of mental health care, whether you have private insurance, Medicare, or another plan.
Arthritic Knees
     If you have pain from osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), you might imagine you should avoid exercise to lessen wear and tear on your joints. Instead, the right kinds of exercise can lessen your discomfort and help preserve the joint.
     This video describes which types of exercise are beneficial and which are harmful. If your arthritis is advanced, please do consult with your doctor before Seated woman doing a leg liftbeginning a new exercise program.
     If your knees are bothersome, you can lessen pain and protect against further deterioration with these exercises. Here are tips for comfortably descending stairs.
In This Issue
PlaneTree Health Lectures
News You Can Use
Caregivers "Meet & Move"
Whole Foods logo
    What a wonderful "5% Day" on January 14 at the Cupertino Whole Foods Market as we chatted with old friends and introduced PlaneTree services to new acquaintances.
     From the store's proceeds that day, the PlaneTree Health Information Center @ the Cupertino Library will receive $8,465.25. The local store, the retail chain's largest outside of Texas, selects a community nonprofit to receive 5% of a day's sales each calendar quarter. We are grateful to the Cupertino Whole Foods Market for choosing to support us so generously.
    It was a pleasure to work with the store's helpful, upbeat staff, as well as the PlaneTree Center volunteers and Santa Clara County Library District employees who helped organize, promote, and staff the event. Everyone's efforts made the day a resounding success. Thank you.
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Caregivers "Meet & Move"
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    All events are open to the public; pre-registration may be required. There is a fee for events marked with an *asterisk.
Health insurance under the new ACA law
Multiple locations & dates
Anger management for teens
San Jose - Wed., Feb. 5
Hip replacement
Los Gatos - Thurs., Feb. 6
End-of-life care
San Jose - Thur., Feb. 6
Disaster preparedness
Gilroy - Sat., Feb. 8
Mindful eating 
Mountain View - Tues., Feb. 11
Becoming a foster parent
Gilroy - Tues., Feb. 11
Exercise for cardiac rehabilitation
Mountain View - Wed., Feb. 12
Sleep for cancer patients
Mountain View - Sat., Feb. 15
Feeding young kids*
Santa Clara - Tues., Feb. 18
Holistic self-care for disordered eating
San Jose - Tues., Feb. 25
Breast cancer*
San Francisco - Sat., Mar. 1
Cupertino - Mon., Mar. 3
Literacy skills for preschoolers with learning disabilities
San Jose - Thurs., Mar. 6
Advance care planning (description; registration)
San Jose - Fri., Mar. 7


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