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Category: tara parker-pope

In a 4,000-word cover story in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Columbia Journalism ReviewDavid H. Freedman, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, offers us a...

In a 4,000-word cover story in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Columbia Journalism ReviewDavid H. Freedman, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, offers us a comprehensive critique of what he calls "personal-health journalism"--what most of us would call medical writing. "Personal-health journalists have fallen into a trap," he writes, producing stories that "grossly mislead the public, often in ways that can lead to poor health decisions with catastrophic consequences."

The problem is not "the sloppiness of poorly trained science writers looking for sensational headlines," he writes. "Many of these articles were written by celebrated health-science journalists and published in respected magazines and newspapers; their arguments were backed up with what appears to be solid,...

My high school Latin is a little rusty. All I have left is a few proverbs bouncing around in...

My high school Latin is a little rusty. All I have left is a few proverbs bouncing around in my head. But one of those turns out to be relevant to today's topic: the much-debated value of breast-cancer screening.

The phrase that comes to mind is: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Which, if I'm remembering correctly, means "after this, therefore because of this." It's a logical fallacy: one event comes after another, therefore it must have been caused by the other.

Or, to apply it to breast-cancer screening, a woman is successfully treated for breast cancer after having a mammogram--therefore, the success of the treatment must be due to the mammogram.

It seems hard to argue otherwise, and however careful we try to be, it's difficult to really know...