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How Do US Journalists Cover Treatments, Tests, Products, and Procedures? An Evaluation of 500 Stories:

* The daily delivery of news stories about new treatments, tests, products, and procedures may have a profound–and perhaps harmful–impact on health care consumers.
* A US Web site project, HealthNewsReview.org (http://HealthNewsReview.org/), modeled after similar efforts in Australia and Canada, evaluates and grades health news coverage, notifying journalists of their grades.
* After almost two years and 500 stories, the project has found that journalists usually fail to discuss costs, the quality of the evidence, the existence of alternative options, and the absolute magnitude of potential benefits and harms.
* Reporters and writers have been receptive to the feedback; editors and managers must be reached if change is to occur.
* Time (to research stories), space (in publications and broadcasts), and training of journalists can provide solutions to many of the journalistic shortcomings identified by the project.

Disease Mongering Is Now Part of the Global Health Debate:

Disease mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness in order to grow markets for those who sell and deliver treatments. It is a process that turns healthy people into patients, causes iatrogenic harm, and wastes precious resources [1]. Disease mongering is the contemporary form of “medicalisation.” It is a process now driven by both corporate and professional interests, and it has become part of the global debate about health care. International consumer groups now target drug company-backed disease mongering as a wasteful threat to public health [2], while the global pharmaceutical industry has been forced to defend its promotion of “lifestyle” medicines for problems like slimming and sexual difficulties [3].

False Hopes, Unwarranted Fears: The Trouble with Medical News Stories:

On April 26, 2007, ABC World News, the American Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship television news program, aired a “good news” story about a new test for prostate cancer [1]. Against a background of a dramatic graphic showing that 1.6 million American men undergo prostate biopsy each year, the presenter announced: “Researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have developed a more accurate blood screening test.” The story was based on a new study examining the performance of early prostate cancer antigen-2 as a serum marker for prostate cancer [2]. Unfortunately, ABC failed to disclose one crucial fact: the principal investigator of this study receives a share of the royalty sales of the test and is a paid consultant to the test’s manufacturer [3].

Sperm Sociality: Cooperation, Altruism, and Spite:

A swimming sperm cell appears to perfectly capture the individualist Darwinian struggle, as it frantically races onwards towards a waiting egg. Consistent with this imagery, sperm morphology and behaviour in many organisms appears exquisitely designed to maximise the chances of fertilisation of each individual sperm cell [1]. However, there are numerous less obliging cases where sperm seem poorly suited to the task, even to the extent that the majority of sperm in an ejaculate may be infertile [2,3]. Why would such sperm evolve?

Sniffing Out the Right Address:

Olfactory systems in organisms ranging from invertebrates to mammals distinguish between odors using an array of olfactory neurons that express different olfactory receptors–usually just one receptor in a given neuron. Since an organism’s genome can encode hundreds of olfactory receptors, researchers have struggled to understand how a single olfactory neuron decides which receptor to express. In Drosophila, it seems that regulatory elements upstream of olfactory receptor genes act like zip codes to direct the expression of each gene to the appropriate class of olfactory neurons.

When Skin Damage Causes Death:

Our skin routinely shields us from microbes, allergens, and other environmental assaults, a yeoman’s service we often take for granted–until that barrier is breached. In response to injury, be it a simple cut or a deep wound, keratinocytes, the cells that form the epidermal layer, proliferate and dispatch chemical messengers to enlist the healing services of immune cells. But new research shows that sometimes damaged skin can send the wrong message to its immune cell partners. Rather than recruiting immune cells to repair a wound, Raphael Kopan and colleagues report, defective skin can trigger a systemic, ultimately fatal immune response.