Tracking how medical and science news stories develop

A colleague at PLoS ONE spotted that the Guardian are trialing a new way of reporting science  and medicine stories – story trackers – by following coverage after the original story has been published. The introduction to the idea is here and here is an example on a story from the BMJ on mobile phone masts.

We’d applaud this as a novel way of following coverage.  Hopefully it will also ultimately lead to better coverage of science and medicine. As we’ve often seen, coverage of papers can take many different angles and the best coverage is rarely the first or noisiest one – as in the one with the loudest headlines – or the one with the widest readership.

There is a lot that needs to be done to improve coverage of medicine and science. The NHS Choices Behind the Headlines site does a sterling job of taking a sober look at press coverage of stories and the stories themselves. In the US, Gary Schwitzer’s site  http://HealthNewsReview.org/, (modelled on similar sites elsewhere) looks  at US coverage of health stories. When he reported his data in 2008 the news on the news was not good – as he noted “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.”

So we’ll be watching this new initiative with interest.

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