Follow Up Gazette – the Science Section

James over at “I Don’t Know, But” had a brilliant idea this week for a journal called “The Follow Up Gazette” (motto: all the things we found out later), that would re-report the news after all the facts were in. His examples were mostly local news, but I would like to throw my hat in the ring to be the editor of the science section. James is of course fully capable of this job himself, but DAMN do I want to do something like this. Let me help James, please.

I’ve been  thinking a lot about this topic, as I had yet another run in with a TED talk recently. We got a question at work from a prospective bone marrow donor asking if we were using a particular collection device in our harvests. None of us had ever even heard of this device, and we were all rather confused where she had gotten her information. A quick google search gave us the answer: there is a TED talk from 8 years ago explaining the device and promising to revolutionize the way marrow harvests are done. Investigating further, we discovered that while this device had gained FDA approval for use in humans,  we couldn’t find any research in humans proving its efficacy, or really any mention of it in the literature past 2009. It’s clear something didn’t go quite as planned, though I’ll be damned if I can find a publicly available record of what. Calling around various people in the field confirmed that no one was using it and that it was not being actively marketed, but we found very few details as to why.

This got me thinking: how would the content of TED talks change if everyone who gave one was required to give an update 5 or 10 years later?

This may seem like a minor point, but I do think it skews our view of science and development of products to hear all of the hype and none of the follow up. Seeing the headline “Brand new drug promises 5 years of extra life for people with horrible disease” juxtaposed with “Actually in practice it was only like 3 months” might help temper our expectations. Alternatively, it may yield that some things were actually shown to be better/safer/whatever than actually thought. My mother recently mentioned that she saw a beautiful house built under power lines, and it hit her that she hadn’t heard a “living under power lines is unhealthy” reference in years. She mentioned that she  assumed that meant that the evidence had shown otherwise, and indeed it has. The Follow-Up Gazette science section would address both sides of this coin, the over hype and the fear mongering. Ideally this would not only educate people in how to consume media, but also encourage media to be slightly more circumspect in their reporting.

James: consider this my application, and thank you in advance for your consideration.

 

2 thoughts on “Follow Up Gazette – the Science Section

  1. You’re hired! (There’s no budget, unfortunately.)

    I was trying to draft a note to the editor of the State Journal asking if they could see themselves generating these sorts of followups. It’s tricky because followups _do_ sometimes get printed, and I want to forestall “we already do this” without insulting anybody. But for crime and business stories they already have the resources and the contacts.

    I’d be more than willing to start a pilot project (on blogspot? For technical reasons(*) I think that might be difficult for a medium-sized site, but the price is right for a small one.) and measure how much time the research takes.

    (*) Implementing it on a large scale requires maintaining a database of keywords associated with each story: people, dates, places, activities, and so on. You also need links to the original stories, which can be a problem if they go behind somebody else’s paywall.

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