On the importance of reading before theorising

From Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian (21 March 2009):

‘Science is not difficult to explain. Today we will see how British journalists go out of their way to cherry-pick which evidence they cover, and then explain the risks and benefits in what has been shown to be the single most unhelpful way possible.

“Screening all older men for prostate cancer ‘could reduce deaths by a fifth’,” said the Mail. “Prostate cancer hope” said the Mirror. “Calls for new policies on NHS cancer tests” said the Independent. “Prostate cancer screening could cut deaths by 20%” said the Guardian. “Better cancer screening is every man’s right” was the editorial in the Scotsman, where they wound themselves into a froth of indignation.

But was this just British journalists finding something to complain about? Because all around the world, people were saying something completely different, on the same day, about the very same academic publication: “Prostate cancer screening may not reduce deaths” said the Washington Post. “Studies cast doubt on leading prostate cancer test” said USA Today. “PSA testing may not save your life after all” said Scientific American. “Prostate cancer blood test does little to decrease death rate” said the Sydney Morning Herald. And so on.

Why would the American and the Australian journalists say something completely different to the British ones, about the very same evidence?’ Read more.

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