Recently a news article on marijuana use and testicular cancer, hit the pages of the papers and news blogs all around the world. Many versions of this article, and most importantly, of nuances in the many titles came to be and showed that one word can be the difference between a correlation study of 369 men with cancer and the new party line for the Drug war advocates.
The study, which came from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, showed certain correlations between heavy marijuana use and testicular cancer, more specifically a rare, yet fast growing in numbers of late, type of cancer called non seminoma.
The media across the world, spread that news, seeing the importance to warn, even if it was not a cause and effect study, the population of the new possibility of risk rolled in the use of smoking pot. So far, so good, the situation seems to be just another subject matter in the sea of information but where this takes and odd turn is when you stop and read the many versions or takes on the said subject matter.
The information added or left out, cherry picked and smoothed out, helps us see the duality of communication of information and the impossibility to be unbiased. This, however, does not imply that there aren’t any well threaded articles on the subject, or that every news paper, blog or internet news source, deliberately muddled the facts, only that we are genuinely influenced by our environment, our views and our peers and so we must be ever vigilant not to let the strong currents of the sea of our lives, steer our integrity and judgment away from the safety of the harbors built on our dedication to facts.
To show, in part, what kind of spectrum we are dealing with here, let’s take a peak at the BBC article . The title, first and foremost, is short and to the point but can be misinterpreted with the use of the term link, or how strong this link is. The article itself shows a rigid, yet explicit structure, it lays down the cold hard facts, concludes on a sound, scientific “replication before clear implication”, and yet still seems laced with an alarmist tone or aftertaste that was preamble by the aforementioned title.
Blogs, bring about, in”dubi” tably, a more all out approach, as can be read on Warren Holstein’s entry at the Huffingtonpost, where humor and candor are used in conjunction with logic to put forth a very off the cuff title yet that hides a well structured and informative piece, that passes an opinion, yes, but leaves you with a feeling that this article was not just thrown out there, but crafted and maybe in the best way to reach the targeted group of the study, males between the age of 20 and 35.
The USA today, health blog, however, seem to sum up the actual study so fast, you don’t have to time to inhale the subject matter, and then “hits” you with loads non-related or misrepresented information, that creates a fear mongering state, only to ensure this lingers, the conclusion goes into testicular cancer statistics on related deaths. Almost all fear, almost none of the facts…
Finally, one of the most, soundly structured title and article, comes from the CBC, where it shows the potential of a threat, the anomalies shown in the rise in the numbers of diagnosed testicular cancer in the last 50 -60years, but also the weight of this link (weak), the limitations of the study ( no replications yet, small group) and the possibility of it being just a statistical blip. It concludes by mentioning where the funds for the research came and gives a glimpse, although very brief, in what the affected age group might think of these new findings. Overall, it constitutes as a well rounded informative piece of writing.
So there we have it folks, a small glimpse of how words and strategic lack of some, can skew or at least taint in a small way the core of a published study and how at its opposite, some can capture the essence, the qualities and flaws of the subject at hand and deliver food for thought…or should that be munchies?