How bad science can lead to bad science journalism \u2014 and bad policy - The Washington Post (1).pdf - The Washington Post PostEverything Perspective How

How bad science can lead to bad science journalism — and bad policy - The Washington Post (1).pdf

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The Washington PostPostEverythingPerspectiveHow bad science can lead to bad science journalism — and badpolicyThis is what happens when news organizations don't catch lousystudies.ByStephen SoumeraiandRoss KoppelJune 7, 2017Journalists play essential roles in translating research on health and health policy for the public, governmentofficials and even scientists. But with a proliferation of media outlets competing for readers’ attention anduniversity press offices and academic journals seeking news headlines, accuracy often suffers.As researchers who focus on health care, we see news coverage of badly designed studies constantly. And we’reconcerned that breathless reporting on bad science can result in costly, ineffective and even harmful nationalpolicies.Few journalists seem able to understand flawed research design, a principal cause of untrustworthy research.Take the coverage earlier this year of federally sponsored “accountable care organizations” (ACOs): medicalgroups and hospitals that aim to improve health-care quality and reduce costs by rewarding physicians forstaying under their assigned budget, charging them for exceeding it and paying them to meet performancegoals, like ordering certain lab tests. Promising as they might sound, the best available evidence shows thesesystems don’t work. Despite this, the U.S. spends billions on such programs, and new, bipartisan nationallegislation (“MACRA”) will expand them even further.Programs like these are propped up by poor studies that gain prominent media headlines. A case study in theextreme was reported by 63 newspapers, wire services, and TV and radio networks, all celebrating the “success”of a well-known Blue Cross-Blue Shield payment model similar to ACOs. But the Health Affairs study on whichall of these exaggerated news stories were based has deep design flaws. To measure the impacts of the program,for example, the study simply compared physicians volunteering for it to those who did not. We have known fordecades that physicians who volunteer for studies are the ones who are already meeting quality standards. Inthis study, the doctors participating in the program had higher quality ratings than non-participants beforejoining the payment program.
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