Letter writer: Health articles need more rigorous approach

Graphic by Lori Deaton

With the impending Wellness issue coming in January, I am adding my voice to those who have appealed to the Mountain Xpress for a more rigorous approach to its health-related articles. As an RN, I am disappointed by the uncritical nature of articles in the Xpress and editors’ feeble response to pleas for more accountability.

The Xpress seems to have no problem finding scientists and experts to examine climate change, decimation of the bee population or alternative energy. A weatherman’s claim that he could reduce Asheville’s carbon footprint with a wave of his hands would surely be challenged, yet the Xpress stands by haplessly as “healers” prattle on, while readers are expected to navigate the unfiltered reports on their own. An open mind is important but must be balanced with healthy skepticism and critical thinking.

The American Press Institute defines the purpose of journalism this way: “… To provide people with verified information they can use to make better decisions and … a systematic process … to find not just the facts, but also the ‘truth about the facts.’” The Xpress seems to have ceded “the truth about the facts” to mindless boosterism and the mining of ad revenue.

Some time ago, the Xpress dropped its restaurant critic, and food articles became promotional pieces that left sorting good eats from bad up to the reader. While there is a big difference between an occasional lousy meal and risking harm from a dubious health therapy, I sense a trend. Justin Souther and Scott Douglas, Xpress movie reviewers with their critical faculties intact, should be nervous. A duo of perky cheerleaders, who give every film four happy faces, could be coming soon. Instead of eliminating these critics, how about putting them on the health and wellness beat? While they may not know a colon from a chakra, they could use their skills to review the literature for the evidence, or lack thereof, for the particular modality.

If the Xpress is unwilling to commit to real health journalism, then I suggest a black box warning at the top of the Wellness section like the FDA does to label drugs with serious or life-threatening risks. Warning: The articles enclosed are manufactured with no quality controls. Swallowing the contents whole may be harmful to the gullible and the highly suggestible. These therapies may offer real benefits or be complete shams — just don’t count on the Xpress for the answers.

— Jim Clark

Editor’s response: Thank you for your comments in anticipation of the upcoming Wellness supplement in late January. We are confident the two issues will be informative and illustrative of healthy and responsible health care journalism. Indeed, in the past year, we have made a concerted effort to provide more balanced coverage about health care issues since receiving feedback from some readers asking for a more skeptical and balanced approach in our reporting. Over the past year, our articles have cited scientific studies when we could find them, included interviews with experts in the field and offered varying viewpoints and modalities to ensure balance. We have reported on evidence-based treatment modalities. We have also covered others — many of them alternative and some cutting-edge — which have not yet been subjected to extensive scientific study.

We believe readers are interested in learning about diverse practices, even those without clear, replicated scientific evidence, as long the coverage makes the situation clear, along with who is making claims of efficacy. We believe that such coverage helps to achieve a goal stated by the Association of Health Care Journalists — to “improve the ability of citizens to make wise decisions about behaviors that promote health, treatment options and their choice of health care providers.” We consider it our responsibility as a local news source to provide credible coverage that assists our readers in making educated choices about their health care options in this community. Our open-minded approach stems from an awareness of the limitations of science, its politics, economics and current inability to measure and quantify many aspects of life and health.

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3 thoughts on “Letter writer: Health articles need more rigorous approach

  1. boatrocker

    ‘Cutting edge’? Really, Mtn X?

    Amen, by the way Jim Clark.

  2. David B

    Certainly, holistic approaches to health and wellness can complement therapies that are provided and validated through traditional medicine. I think we are just asking that interventions whose efficacy have not been “measured and quantifi(ed)” are not presented in a manner that suggests that they have. Your “open minded approach” must clearly identify those interventions that are, and those are NOT, supported by evidence that they are effective – then let the consumer decide which are appropriate.

    • boatrocker

      A good rule of thumb is:

      The longer a Mtn X’s editor’s (anonymous strangely enough) back pedaling, justifications, deflections, etc at the end of a LTE about taking to task of woo woo science and medicine, the more the ‘methinks they doth protest too much’ line from The Bard applies and yes, it is only about readerships, views and advertising $.

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