Ignorance when buying won’t prevent the pony from biting.

Gary Schwitzer, an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication, provides the best explanation for why most reporting on health topics are irresponsibly incomplete. His critique reviews TIME’s year-end medical breakthrough list, which placed circumcision and its ability to “prevent” HIV at the top.

We believe that with any claim of “breakthrough’” the claimant should include some discussion of the quality of the evidence behind this claim. And for stories that discuss treatments, tests, products or procedures, we should be talking at least a little bit about how much these “breakthroughs” will cost.

Yes, we know that editors think these lists are cute, promotable features. But the cumulative effect of discussing breakthrough after breakthrough without any mention of cost or evidence leaves the reader waiting for Santa to arrive with the next one.

Any look at how (voluntary, adult) circumcision can reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission must include the costs, risks, and ethical issues, with an honest contextual analysis of statistics. Without that, parents in America will irrationally apply findings to their own children and commend themselves for being so smart. It’s a national farce encouraged by sloppy journalism (among many problems).

Link via Kevin, M.D. The title of this entry refers to this commercial.