June 6th, 2009 at 7:06 pm by Chris Watkins
Health headlines. Promises of cures for cancers (sometimes even a cure for "cancer", which makes little sense as cancer refers to many diseases). Diets. Fitness. Weight loss. Heart health. The latest discovery by scientists, often using similar language to the opposite claim made not so long ago in the media.
New stories every day. A deluge of data, often unreliable data, that distracts us from the much harder search for actual knowledge.
This is the nature of the mass media - careful analysis isn't as captivating as the appearance of new breakthroughs every day, and isn't cost-effective from a media perspective. But as we become more media savvy, we question the media, and hopefully we turn to more reliable sources.
Here's a very promising source of intelligent news about health: Behind the Headlines. It takes health headlines and discusses the evidence that does or does not exist for the headline. Fantastic.
Aside from being more informative about the individual cases, this also introduces critical thinking into the reporting and consumption of health news. The reader is presented with a framework through which each story is analyzed. Rather than a simple "Scientists have discovered that...", a claim made must hold up to examination. Being told what to believe by someone in a white coat is replaced by sound argument and research. This is good.
Health professionals and those interested in the subject, please check it out and let us know what your assessment
Getting behind the noise on a wiki
Fellew wikiholics, how do we best apply this kind of critical analysis in a wiki? In our case, we deal with knowledge about global public health, international development, and sustainability, which are also contentious areas - this looks similar enough. It's just a matter of applying it in the wiki world. Some of the principles have been worked out on Wikipedia - others will have to evolve on Appropedia to suit the different goals and guidelines, including more room for analysis. It seems to me that a community of informed, thinking people, a guideline for page structure and some editing tools will be the starting point for this evolution.
"Behind the Headlines" is provided by the NHS Knowledge Service in Britain. Many thanks to the British taxpayer - if it fulfills its promises, this is money very well spent.