The American Heart Association held its annual scientific sessions in Los Angeles this week, and the results, according to Gary Schwitzer and his pack of watchdogs at HealthNewsReview.org were mixed.
Schwitzer's reviewers looked at seven stories out of what were certainly hundreds of stories that emerged from the meeting.
They looked most closely at a story from The New York Times by Andrew Pollack which, they said, engaged in a kind of editorial ping-pong. The study he was covering was about new drugs to lower cholesterol, and HealthNewsReview granted that he had reported the caveats of the study:
One is that while the drugs lower cholesterol, it has not yet been shown that they actually reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular problems. Furthermore, many of the studies so far have lasted no more than 12 weeks and involved fewer than 200 people. Far longer and larger studies are needed to show that the drugs would keep working over a lifetime and would be safe.
But the caveats, Schwitzer writes, came after "a totally unsubstantiated claim" by one of the researchers. "Why allow such a game of editorial ping-pong? No one benefits. No one likes it."
HealthNewsReview uses a scorecard of nine or 10 items to rate stories. A Reuters story on a cholesterol drug got four "satisfactory" marks out of nine. An AP story that I wrote about here got 9 out of 10 satisfactory marks from HNR. I liked the story, too.
I'm beginning to think that Schwitzer's criteria for judging stories ought to be printed on wallet cards for reporters, like Miranda warnings, to remind them what questions to ask. I could use one of those myself.