From study to action and the media is culpable

We in the media have eliminated the lag time between a drug study coming out and recommending action. It's time we cut it out. Or it might be time to hand out some malpractice suits to journalists.

Atorvastatin from NYU internal medicine blog clinical correlationsWe in the media have eliminated the lag time between a drug study coming out and recommending action.

It's time we cut it out. (Picture of Avorvastatin from NYU's Clinical Correlations, the latest entry in our blogroll. Go Violets!) Or it might be time to hand out some malpractice suits to journalists.

Today, for instance, we have a study showing caffeine may make diabetes worse. But decaf may cut your risk. But decaf may raise heart risks. But coffee may protect your skin from cancer.

One substance, one source, what are you supposed to do?

It's likely that the link between cholesterol and heart disease is not as straightforward as we thought. It may be statins like Lipitor reduce heart attacks by reducing inflammation, or impact lipoproteins.

Notice the key word in the above paragraphs -- may. As in maybe. As in maybe not.

We in the media don't like to look at shades of gray. We want clear conclusions, clear angles, clear advice. We like binary absolutes.

Trouble is science doesn't work that way.

Critics like to charge that science changes its mind. Not really. Our theories change and in science everything is a theory. Gravity is a theory. The theories with the greatest acceptance are those which work in the real world. Gravity seems to work.

When it comes to statins and cholesterol the link may not be exactly clear. Behind the cholesterol are other substances which may, in fact, be the controlling risk factors for heart disease.

But until there are enough studies with enough contrary recommendations so that a consensus forms around an alternate theory of heart disease, I'm going to exercise, try to eat my vegetables and take my medicine.

Individual science studies, it turns out, are like trades on the stock market. As with the stock market, the proper response not to panic.[poll id=11]

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