News hype is something I discuss often, both in writing and in conversation. Consider:
Most news outlets are businesses with the purpose of making a profit. The more people read their “news”, the more profit.
Simple enough and that leaves readers with a responsibility. How do we learn ways to recognize news hype and ignore it?
Certainly not all news organizations are guilty of the profuse use of news hype. Yet as businesses, the temptation is there. Not only on a company wide basis, but by individual writers and reporters. Recognition is a way to get ahead.
Just as with any news and subject of interest, there is plenty of Hype in Health Care News. And if we don’t try to recognize it and dismiss it we may make bad decisions about our own health care and our care of others.
Health Care News Hype: An Example
There is a tremendous amount of information available about Alzheimer’s disease and it’s causes and possible prevention. Also, new details about what is being done to prevent the terrible disease. Quite often we will see the subject of Alzheimer’s in the news. Many times we may come across a piece having to do with new studies or discoveries. One recent news subject has concerned whether or not the disease is “contagious”. Certainly it is in my family, I get it by just being in the same room as my relatives (that’s a joke thank you).
Now, let’s consider more about this particular example. Here are some of the news articles that have appeared lately concerning the idea of being able to “catch a case of Alzheimer’s disease”.
Alzheimer’s can be transmitted from one person to another, new evidence suggests - The Independent, UK
January 30 2016 - That headline obviously suggests that there is now evidence that we can get Alzheimer’s from another person. No genetics or traumatic brain injury here, just another person not even related to us. What, maybe coughing in our direction? But read on. The first paragraph states that there is a “controversial theory that the “seeds” of Alzheimer’s disease may have been transmitted between patients during surgical procedures involving the use of donated human tissue”.
Does that mean, even if true, that the disease is contagious? You decide. Truly however the headline is very misleading. It’s hype.
First Evidence that Alzheimer’s Proteins May Have Passed from Person to Person – Time Magazine
Sept. 9, 2015 - Second paragraph states: “In a breakthrough experiment described Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in London report for the first time evidence that patients may have acquired the Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, from a medical treatment.”
Again, the headline and the second paragraph may give the impression that we will need to avoid contact with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. Yet the study by John Collinge, a neurologist at University College London, and his colleagues were on “the brains of eight people who had died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a condition caused by a protein that acts like a virus.”
Not Alzheimer’s. And not what some would call “contagious”. In fact the article stated “given the small number of brains studied and the preliminary nature of the results, it’s hard to say exactly what the connection between prions (subject of the study) and Alzheimer’s disease may be”.
Hype or no? Maybe.
So the takeaway from this is that we have to be aware of more than headlines and bold paragraphs to tell the difference from real informative news information and ratings grabbing overstatements. We need to read more if a subject seems important to us. If we do then we will find there is more to the subject of Contagious Alzheimer’s Disease.
Throwing Water on the Hype
Now here are a couple of news items which offer some reasons to re-think the hype of “Contagious Alzheimers” disease.
No, Alzheimer's is Not Contagious – CNN News
November 5, 2015 - Reporting on the subject of one study, “the authors conclude that there is "no suggestion that Alzheimer's disease is a contagious disease and no supportive evidence from epidemiological studies that Alzheimer's disease is transmissible, notably by blood transfusions."
Alzheimer's Contagious? News Outlets Misinterpret Study, Scientists Say - Newsmax
Sep 11, 2015 - “Medical professionals are pushing back against headlines this week that suggest the disease can be passed along via transmissible clumps of proteins”, so we read. And regarding some researchers “Some, though, complained about headlines in the news media suggesting that Alzheimer's can be contagious.” Go figure.
And there are many more news articles showing concern about the hype and giving reasons not to jump to conclusions. Certainly not to be afraid of being around someone with the terrible affliction of Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, I myself have always subscribed to Newton’s law:
‘For every study, there is an equal and opposite study’
Well OK, not exactly what Newton said but you get the drift. Ignore exageration – get informed – don’t fall victim to Hype in the News.
If we stay correctly informed about health care, ask the right questions and dig for the best answers, we will have the greatest chance of having the best health we can.
Indecently, did you get the irony of the title of this article - Health Care News Hype – Is It Real?
It’s obvious I hope. Hype is Never Real!