Friday, July 26, 2013

Hope or Hype?: Wires Deep in Brains Tame OCD --- Sometimes

AP, Reuters - Wires deep in brains tame OCD ... sometimes.

 A critical look at health reporting by Charlie Petit, 2008

Studies of a highly experimental and imprecise experiment on just 16 people are difficult for reporters to handle well.

The statistics are probably iffy. Chances of irresponsibly raising public expectations, if the malady in question is serious and common, are high.

The AP's Stephanie Nano did it anyway, reporting tantalizing results from a study in France that tested a "brain pacemaker" (deep brain stimulation) in patients with serious obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 As Nano included some rather horrific side effects right off the bat and including bleeding into the brain, one suspects public demand for this unproven treatment will be scant. So, she seems to have gotten away with it.

Ditto for Reuters's Gene Emery, the only other writer for a major outlet who appears to have done the piece as soon as the embargo lifted.

The AP's Nano has one non-author's opinion of the work (not exactly an outside authority however - at the Nat'l Inst of Mental Health.

The study has NIH money CORRECTION: No NIH money. The Tracker misread the link as from a list of NIH-funded projects. Hat off to Nano for reaching an independent authority). 

Emery at Reuters has none.

The work is inherently fascinating. Its underlying thesis is, to The Tracker's way of thinking anyway, intuitively solid. Another reason to give the results circulation: they are in the New England Journal of Medicine and have eight full-width lines of authors.

Of interest is the press release (see Grist below), provided in both English and French by the researchers' parent institution.

 It reminds one of a style of press release seldom still seen from US publicists. It's not a ready-to-run story. It is a fact-packed background information store. It compels reporters to craft a compelling yarn all by themselves.

In this internet age, public relations pros know a lot of their releases, especially those of immediate public interest, are going to be re-posted all over the internet.

This may be one reason releases seem increasingly to be in conventional daily journalism form - anecdotal leads, lots of quotes, colorful asides, and so on.

They can tell the story so well (just speculating here of course) that journalists in a hurry easily repeat the press officer's metaphors and angles and even lift the quotes verbatim and unattributed.


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