To: MSNBC Chief Editor
Re: Headline writers
It has come to our attention that many of your readers are misinterpreting the headlines of news stories you post on MSNBC. We bring this to your attention in order to forestall any unfortunate behavior that could be linked to anyone acting on a potentially misleading headline posted on your site. For example, the lead listed above implies that drinking green tea may be an effective treatment for prostate cancer. As the body of your story correctly states, what the researchers from Japan found in this epidemiologic study is that Japanese men who drink Japanese green tea in Japan merely reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer. Here is how the scientists put it in their abstract:
Green tea was not associated with localized prostate cancer. However, consumption was associated with a dose-dependent decrease in the risk of advanced prostate cancer. The multivariate relative risk was 0.52 (95% confidence interval: 0.28, 0.96) for men drinking 5 or more cups/day compared with less than 1 cup/day (p trend = 0.01). Green tea may be associated with a decreased risk of advanced prostate cancer.
We realize we may be nitpicking, but you try to explain to patients chugging gallons of Lipton Green Tea that the stuff is unlikely to shrink their tumors – not to mention that this tea is not the same product consumed by the gentlemen of Japan.
The art of writing a headline is tricky, as anyone who has read a newspaper knows, and we don’t mean to disparage your natural abilities, but would you consider rewriting these examples, too?
“ADHD drugs may boost ER visits” (Why would anyone need more encouragement to visit the local ER?)
“Stuck in a sex slump? Tips to end the dry spell” (Egad – at least you didn’t write “Sex life slumping? Grab these tips and pull them close to get things up again”)
“Paris offends little people in her Smurfy quest” (We have no idea what a “Smurfy” is, nor why it should be sought, but we strongly disagree with the statement that “Paris Hilton offends little people” – she offends many people, if not every last one of them)
“Alien ants devour locals, then go vegetarian” (Ever since we saw Sigourney Weaver battling those giant ants on the silver screen we knew it was just a matter of time before they found Earth, but how in heaven’s name did the Vegans for Myrmecological Equality convert them to broccolini sprouts?)
Our research staff will be happy to provide you with more examples if needed. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
The Cheerful Oncologist, Inc., L.L.P., Ltd., Esq., V.S.O.P.