Some requirements – a post-first-meeting update

October 10, 2006

  What resources will I need?

  1. Archives from, say, three newspapers (perhaps – Guardian, Daily Mail, Sun? Another point for debate) on MRSA, MMR and Herceptin stories
  2. The relevant scientific papers. This will include (but probably not be limited to) the original Wakefield report suggesting a link between MMR and autism, as well as the Cochrane meta-study critiquing the various trials that followed; the reports following the “mop of death” stories on MRSA on the undercover samples taken; and the NICE reports on the clinical (and cost-) effectiveness of Herceptin. I may need outside help determining which papers are relevant.
  3. The Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice (already have it off their website) and (perhaps) an equivalent for broadcast journalism
  4. DoH policy stuff – ask Mum about this; particularly worth looking at www.mmrthefacts.nhs.uk in the meantime, though.

Who will I need to speak to and why? 

Medics:

  1. To compare scientific literature with press reporting.
  2. To  gain front-line information on how reporting affects public opinion and how easy it is to do their jobs; how much harder did the Wakefield/MMR scare make it for GPs to convince parents to vaccinate? Did MRSA scare stories lead to problems either in convincing patients to go to hospital or treating them once they were there – and (despite the apparent malpractice of the press in the undercover-swab stories) were these scare stories justified? Do oncologists feel pressured into prescribing Herceptin in cases where it is not cost- or clinically effective?
  3. To establish what, if any, responsibilities medics believe they have in communicating effectively with journalists.  Clearly they have a duty to report their research etc fairly, but should they treat distortion as a “natural hazard” of dealing with the media?

Journalists:

  1. To discover the extent of their specialist knowledge on the topics they are writing about – specifically science and health
  2. To discover their degree of training and/or understanding regarding their ethical responsibilities and the extent to which they feel obliged to honour them
  3. To discover the pressures to sensationalise stories beyond what the literature supports

What skills will I need? 

  1. Most important, I will need to be able to make sense of scientific papers for myself. Hopefully I will be able to find a pet medic or scientist to do the real in-depth stuff but I’ll still need to form opinions of my own.
  2. Interviewing techniques (obviously – see above)
  3. Teaching skills (worth getting even if I don’t start teaching ‘til after the PhD is completed)
  4. Library training
  5. Archive training
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