Can you really catch Alzheimers? – Sorting newspaper fact from fiction
Have you read the story about how dementia is contagious? Did you see that article about how a brand new drug is curing Alzheimer’s? Or the one about eating a lemon three times a week preventing memory loss?
Every day we’re bombarded with sensational, attention-grabbing headlines in papers about medical breakthroughs, dietary changes or scary discoveries which, after a few days, disappear without trace.
Now, no one is suggesting that newspapers or the media are making things up, but there are certain ways articles are written to pull the reader in and make the read more interesting. So how can you tell what’s really going on?
Recognii co-founder and health journalist Fiona Wright has written for national newspapers and magazines for over 30 years, including The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Express, The Mirror, Good Housekeeping magazine and Woman and Home. She gives her tips to delve behind the story:
Take the headline with a pinch of salt.
Don’t forget that headline is just an advert to grab your attention and make your read. Headlines are usually written by a sub-editor, who will cut the words to fit the page and will not have researched or written the story. For example ‘Alzheimer’s can be spread from human to human’ was an explosive headline in The Mirror newspaper a few years ago. The truth was that there was an incredibly small, theoretical risk that it could be transferred during operations via contaminated medical instruments. And, as the paper points out later, the chances of it happening are miniscule.
Read from the bottom up
Read the headline and then check the end paragraph. The reporter puts in any denials, caveats, or cautions towards the end, because they’re the boring bits. The Department of Health is often hidden down there and is (mostly) good for balance and checks.
Check the Byline
Pay attention to who it’s written by. Health and science correspondents have a bank of expertise and scepticism for sensational claims in press releases. They can be more reliable than general reporters, who are more likely to accept a press release at face value.