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The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example: ...

The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example:  Travel with Oregon Rotarian Nancy Hughes and her team to visit a stove factory they help to establish near Antigua, Guatemala between June 18–27.

They tell me Guatemala is lovely in June...

The offer is apparently being tendered by the public relations firm GolinHarris on behalf of Rotary. The email goes on to explain why the stove project is important, the number of lives that can be saved by better stoves, and so forth.

I'm all for it. Who's against saving lives?

What I'm not for is to have sources pay for coverage. A reporter's obligation is to present what he or she learns to readers, viewers, or listeners...

Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the...

Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the mother's claims!"

But the article's author, Stacy Finz, had scooped me. "There is no science to back up many of her claims," Finz wrote. 

Knowing that, she wrote the story anyway--a story that will surely lead many other parents to try the same unproven diet. Why write it if there is no science to back this up, and when we know that many readers will slip past the caveats to seize the hope?

Finz actually answered that question:

While there is no science to back up many of her claims, Reid [Katherine Reid, the mother] said the most convincing evidence to her is the results she saw in her...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted shortly after it appeared on the website of the Annals of Internal Medicine to correct several errors. And although the study's first author stands by the conclusions, a number of scientists are criticizing the paper and even calling on the authors to retract it," writes Kai Kupferschmidt at Science.

Harvard's Walter Willett, whose decades of research was flatly contradicted by the new study, told Kupferschmidt that the study's authors "have done a huge amount of damage. I think a retraction...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, he told Anahad O'Connor at The New York Times.

Science writers who reported that finding were then left with the problem of how to account for decades of research and advice that seemed to say the opposite.

They struggled.

The conclusion seems to be that nobody is quite sure how to reconcile the old advice with the new finding. Here is the best that five reporters could come up with:

1. Let's start with O'Connor at the Times. She...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA Study: Civilization Doomed to Collapse Soon."

And there were others, some of which made the distinction that this was not a NASA study, but rather a NASA-funded study, which hedges a bit but still suggests vague NASA approval: "NASA-funded report says society is trending toward big collapse" read the headline in the Houston Chronicle on Mar. 18. (And as we will see, even "NASA-funded" isn't quite right.)

But as the coverage continued, it began to morph into something quite different...

Drew Altman
Paul Raeburn
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[Ed. note: Drew Altman is the president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. He publishes a regular column on health issues at the foundation's website. This column...

[Ed. note: Drew Altman is the president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. He publishes a regular column on health issues at the foundation's website. This column appeared today. It is reprinted with the foundation's permission. -Paul Raeburn.]

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Obamacare: The Metrics In The News Are Mostly Wrong

A few weeks ago the Obama Administration reported that enrollment in the new insurance marketplaces topped four million through the end of February, then five million by mid- March, showing steady progress since the website woes of October. News organizations...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online subscription.

But as Retraction Watch's founders, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, acknowledge, their subscription is more like a request that readers throw some cash into a tip jar.

"We're hoping some of you will consider making a financial contribution," Oransky writes. The idea is to use the extra funds for operating expenses, hiring other writers as contributors, conducting investigations, and building a proper retractions database.

But Retraction Watch will remain freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. "Open access to information about scientific corrections and retractions is...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook page.

It's easy to see how emotional that must have been.

But it shouldn't deter us from extending sincere congratulations to a writer whose consistent excellence and steady hand might put us in mind of Iron Man Cal Ripken of the Orioles. I worked right beside Malcolm for a dozen years, and I can tell you that you will not find a more dependable, capable, or collegial science writer anywhere in our business.

One of Malcolm's colleagues, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, sent the Tracker an email with an eloquent description of Malcolm's work that I thought was worth reprinting here, so that I can add that I happily and...

On Feb. 27, 1947, a Malay villager was drawing in his net in a rice field and inspecting his catch "whereupon a fish leaped out of the water into his mouth and disappeared down his throat."

So says a medical case report hoisted from the briny depths by Discover's...

On Feb. 27, 1947, a Malay villager was drawing in his net in a rice field and inspecting his catch "whereupon a fish leaped out of the water into his mouth and disappeared down his throat."

So says a medical case report hoisted from the briny depths by Discover's Seriously, Science? blog.

When the villager's friends and family were unable to retrieve the fish, they decided to bring him to the hospital. The patient "was throwing himself about on the stretcher," but doctors could make out the tail of a fish protruding over the base of his tongue.

They then executed a delicate and breathtaking maneuver: They grasped the tail "in sponge-holding forceps" and slowly began to pull.

Alas, in the precise language of the case report, "Traction only...

A treatment for severe depression that has received a lot of coverage over the past few years has suffered a setback, John Horgan reports in his Cross-...

A treatment for severe depression that has received a lot of coverage over the past few years has suffered a setback, John Horgan reports in his Cross-Check blog at Scientific American. A multi-center trial of deep-brain stimulation was halted, raising questions about a treatment that, in trials with a handful of patients, had shown remarkable results.

The treatment was pioneered by Helen Mayberg of Emory University. She was the one who had shown a few dramatic reversals of depression in patients by means of electrical stimulation of a particular part of the brain.

"I've always had doubts about Mayberg's claims," Horgan writes, on the grounds that her initial studies had only a few patients and that she has links to a medical-device company that makes the...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can quickly improve the quality of the "science" it's publishing. The lead story on the relaunched site's first day--"Finally, a Formula for Decoding Health News"--was abysmal.

Silver's most famous achievement was calling 50 states correctly in the 2012 presidential election. But in a manifesto entitled What the Fox Knows, Silver says some others did nearly as well, and that his election forecasts "didn’t represent the totality, or even the most important part, of our journalism at FiveThirtyEight. We also covered topics ranging from the...

It's now impossible to sort through all the explanations and theories concerning the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but two theories seem to stand out today: One very persuasive, and one nearly ridiculous.

A post on...

It's now impossible to sort through all the explanations and theories concerning the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but two theories seem to stand out today: One very persuasive, and one nearly ridiculous.

A post on Google+ by the pilot Chris Goodfellow suggests what seems to me--and to others--a plausible explanation. The left turn that the plane took put it on a direct course for Palau Langkawi, an airport with a 13,000-foot strip "with an approach over water with no obstacles." The pilot, Goodfellow speculates, "was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make that immediate turn back to the closest safe airport." The loss of communication makes perfect sense in the event of an electrical fire. The first response would be to pull all the circuits and try to isolate the bad one.

And to turn toward safe harbor:

...

After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be...

After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be more careful about identifying press releases.

In an email to me, she wrote:

Hi Paul --
I think the tech work done on the PR Newswire issue should resolve any issue of reader confusion about what exactly the content is. The note to readers at the top of the feed now comes up on each individual story should someone come to it differently.
Regards,
Joyce Terhaar

The note she's referring to is an alert that a story is a press release, not copy produced by the Bee's reporters.

I had written that I thought readers could easily confuse editorial copy and advertising, because the distinctions on...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up four times, as does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

AHCJ links to the winners here. You will find a lot of inspiring reading.

-Paul Raeburn

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and...

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and possibly important research on HIV and a disturbing bit about the politicization of the government's Office of Research Integrity.

"Refined sugar is one of the worst things found in the Western diet," she writes, quoting Lindsay Kobayashi at the blog Public Health Perspectives. That's a sentiment that will surely bring joy to the sugar-free heart of Gary Taubes. Will action by the World Health organization help reduce sugar in processed foods? Place your bets.

Turn to Powledge for more on HIV and the ORI, but...

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