Monday, January 05, 2009

Your Inner Geek: Reading The Latest News about Kids Like a Scientist

We parents hear a lot of news about the latest research on children. Some weeks it's difficult to avoid the breaking news on kid's health and well-being. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the sensational head lines. Maybe we even worry or call the pediatrician. Two journalists over at Newsweek.com suggest avoiding the hype with a healthy dose of skepticism - which isn't the same as completely disbelieving the latest findings, rather, taking them into context. The article by Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert focuses on Hormone Replacement Therapy but easily applies to children's health:

"Here's what you need to know: no single piece of research can ever be 100 percent definitive. Scientific discovery is open-ended, which means that the best studies answer some questions but also raise new ones. And no study, no matter how carefully conducted or designed, can pinpoint your individual risk."

Or, I would add, can tell you what is best for you or your child.

They also point out that people weren't exposed to medical research twenty years ago. Doctors read about it in medical journals and relayed it to their patients. Journalists tended to report research as part of a larger story, not rushing to broadcast the latest empirical evidence. So people were more likely to read about research in context and not as discombobulated pieces.

Now we seem to hear about every finding no matter how significant or not. Fair studies get nearly the same attention as very good studies. And if you're reading on the internet, you'll come across some very poor ones - that someone is proclaiming the best evidence ever. It's easy to forget that the scientific evidence rises and falls depending on the next study and the next study. And surprising results, no matter how newsworthy or news-generating, have to be considered in the context of previous and future research. Sometimes very unexpected results are merely flukes. But boy do the headlines grab our attention.

I'd say we all need to become more science savvy in this boom of health information.

2 comments:

Michelle said...

I couldn't agree more!

therextras said...

See my page Reading Research, linked in the middle column.

Nice stuff here.
Barbara