Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Presse Goes Woo-woo

La Presse is a large circulation daily newspaper in Montreal (Canada). Today's issue has front page coverage of the "battle" between real doctors and phoney ones. Coverage begins on the front page with "Herbs or Vaccines?" [Médecine: des herbes ou une piqûre?].

The collection of articles inside presents a very favorable case for non-evidence based medicine (i.e. alternative medicine), although it does toss a few bones toward skepticism by quoting some "traditional" doctors (i.e. doctors who rely on evidence in making decisions about the well-being of their patients).

This is "science" reporting at its worst. The lead reporter is Pascal Breton who graduated form l'Université du Québec à Montréal with a degree in journalism, She used to write about provincial politics but she has been covering health issues at La Presse for the past four years.


  1. Kwebec...need we say more?

  2. It doesn't matter which newspaper: any topic in which expertise is needed for deep understanding, especially science, has a great likelihood of being badly reported upon.

    I think there are two problems. The first is that most people are, unfortunately, barely numerate. My favourite example proving this in the newspaper profession are the continuing mistranslations that appear in print between imperial and metric area and volume measures. The persistance shows that reporters and editors just don't even think about these problems.

    The second problem is cultural. Like most of us, reporters come in with preconceived ideas (like a gestalt) of the topic they are working upon. Since they are not experts, their capability of understanding whether their ideas on the topic are properly underpinned is diminished.

    But, unlike the rest of us, who merely engage in smalltalk between friends and family, reporters have to explain and report on these subjects to thousands of people. That requires a type of courage most of us wouldn't have. To overcome the natural trepidation of avoiding teaching people things you don't yourself understand, I think many reporters must convince themselves they really do understand these subjects.