Rage over fake news is the fashionable complaint in politics. How about science? An article in PLOS One by researchers at the University of Bordeaux, France exposes the deficiencies of much of science reporting. “Many biomedical findings reported by newspapers are disconfirmed by subsequent studies,” they write.
This happens because newspapers prefer to publish, um... news –developments which are novel or contradict the conventional wisdom. An article touting the medicinal benefits of say, asparagus extract, will always get front page billing. Subsequent research which fails to replicate this research will often go unreported. So the public is left believing that consuming huge quantities of asparagus will cure cancer, psoriasis and glaucoma.
Furthermore, they observe, most journalists from the mainstream media prefer to ignore “the high degree of uncertainty inherent in early biomedical studies”. They suggest that “when preparing a report on a scientific study, journalists should always ask scientists whether it is an initial finding and, if so, they should inform the public that this discovery is still tentative and must be validated by subsequent studies.”
Scientists, too, have “a moral duty” to ensure that press releases describing their work are accurate.
A State Senator in Hawaii, Breene Harimoto gave an emotional address this week to persuade his colleagues to vote against a bill for legalising physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. He said that in 2015 he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has a low survival rate and can be quite painful. But he was cured. “It is a miracle that I am still alive,” he said.
His point was that “terminal illness” is almost meaningless. Margaret Dore, a Seattle lawyer who lobbied against the bill, recalls an even more dramatic incident. “A few years ago, I was met at the airport by a man who at age 18 or 19 had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and given 3 to 5 years to live, at which time he would die by paralysis. His diagnosis had been confirmed by the Mayo Clinic. When he met me at the airport, he was 74 years old. The disease progression had stopped on its own."
If Senator Harimoto or Ms Dore’s friend had the option of assisted suicide, they might stopped fighting their disease and chosen a quick death. They would have chopped decades off their lives. “Terminal illness” is a pillar of assisted suicide legislation – and it just doesn’t make sense.
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