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Canadian journalists who specialize in health and science reporting are doing a tremendous job of covering their subject matter but need to remain ever-vigilant about asking hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions when presented with new research, according to Brian Goldman.
“Anytime you’re seeing a brand new theory, be skeptical and ask lots of tough questions,” said Dr. Goldman, who will deliver a keynote address to the Canadian Science Writers’ Association when it holds its annual conference in Windsor June 2-5.
An emergency room doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto since 1984, Goldman is also the host of CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art, a weekly program which examines the culture of medicine and the health care system from the perspective of those who work in it.
Goldman said he has great respect for health and science journalists, but notes that in some cases mainstream media outlets fall short of applying rigorous standards of objectivity and due diligence when covering new science.
A case in point, which he’ll discuss in his address, is the issue of multiple sclerosis liberation treatment. Founded by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni, the treatment is based on the theory that multiple sclerosis may be caused by increased blood iron and that a procedure similar to angioplasty can be used to relieve MS symptoms by draining blood from the brain.
Goldman said despite a lack of evidence of its efficacy – and even though many neurologists who study the condition have refuted the theory – some politicians have lobbied for increased funding for research into the method because of an up-swell of social media support from patients and believers of the therapy. He described the initial media coverage of the treatment, which Zamboni tried on his own wife who suffers from MS, as “fawning approval.”
“There was not a lot of critical thinking,” he said. “It was the triumph of anecdotal information over scientific proof.”
He was quick to point out that the neurologists pushing back against the therapy as a possible treatment also need to be asked critically why they’re opposed and about what they stand to lose if it’s proven effective. However Goldman acknowledged posing those hard questions can be a little like asking the host at a dinner party if they’ve washed their hands before preparing a meal.
Goldman’s keynote address is scheduled for Sunday, June 3 at noon. Last year he delivered a frank, passionate and confessional ‘TED talk’ in Toronto called Doctors Make Mistakes: Can We Talk About That?
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