Most of the news that’s fit to print

Last week, Jason wrote a post questioning the effectiveness of Avahan, a Gates Foundation-funded program in India. What’s interesting is the disparate ways the media has portrayed the project’s results:

The New York Times headline on October 10th, reads “India: Gates Foundation’s AIDS Program in India Has Made Uneven Progress Over 8 Years.”

The BBC’s headline on October 11th is less nuanced: “Bill Gates India Scheme ‘Spared 100,000 From HIV.'”

Hooray!

Not so fast...

As Jason points out, the article’s results are not cut and dry. The program was more successful in the south of India, where HIV is primarily transmitted sexually whereas there was no observed effect in the north, where the virus is mostly spread by intravenous drug use. It was also more successful in areas that received more resources and had higher populations. But it’s these details that make the role of journalists so crucial.

The reason the media reports on scientific and economic publications is that most people don’t read the academic journals the primary research is published in. This is a great service, transmitting results to and informing the greater public. But it requires a savvy journalist capable of interpreting the results and presenting them in a more accessible fashion. In truth, most of us don’t even get to the end of news articles summarizing these research studies. That’s why proper framing–starting with the headline–is so essential.

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About schwartz1983

Medical student. Aspiring public health practitioner.
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