Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why Experts Now Think You Should Avoid Plain Language Use in Medical Articles

Plain Language is crucial to our society when it comes to conveying information in a quick, simple, and effective manner. However, it is also a tool used by journalists to attract reader’s attention by coming up with catchy and surprising titles. By creating these titles editors and journalists alike improve the chances of people clicking on the link to their article and, in turn, increasing the amount of page views which results in higher profits from advertisers. At its core there is hardly anything wrong with wanting to attract readers to your company’s website, but where this practice becomes harmful is when the information conveyed to the readers is either false or could easily be misinterpreted. This is often the case in articles written about medical studies that have been conducted by reputable organizations such as universities, national health organizations, or medical research facilities. The main problem is that the media and health organizations are two very different things that approach new discoveries in very different ways. The media wants to publish the most surprising findings in the fastest possible manner in order to gain revenue and viewership. The medical organizations will take an eternity to report to the public its conclusions about the studies they have conducted. The reason being is that medical information is very hard to define as being one thing or another. There are an infinite amount of factors to consider and it is for this reason why countless tests and trials have to be run. Their job isn’t to keep people interested, it’s to provide them with reliable medicine and advice so people can improve their quality of living.
Men’s Journal recently posted an article with the title, “Why Experts Now Think You Should Eat More Fat.” The language used in the article was around the 11th grade as far as reading levels go but the title itself is where Plain language usage can lead to problems. The title is not only oversimplified, it is dangerously oversimplified. And that’s a problem when dealing with medical information, especially when it’s relatively new to the scene. To suggest that all “Experts,” have come to some sort of consensus on an issue which would essentially reverse the way we’ve looked at food over the years is nonsense. The only reason the title was written in such a way is because it was written for Men’s Journal, which may be a somewhat popular media outlet but it is hardly appropriate to get ones medical advice from such a place. I do not doubt the credibility of either the author or the results of the study, but to be so blunt and reckless with such influential information is far from what the medical community deems to be acceptable. Every doctor will tell their patients that when it comes to diets, “one size never fits all.” Not only that, but even if this information was credible and that it could be applied to all people, then many more tests must first be conducted before you start changing people’s diets. The medical community has never been a big fan of jumping the gun when it comes to releasing medical advice to the public. Also, medical information tends to be very complex and that is especially true for dieting. It is one of the most volatile situations in medicine and every year someone acts like they’ve found the magical solution and someday that very well may happen, but that information should not be annotated; every bit of information is crucial when it comes to matters of health. And while I agree that comprehension is important it is even more important that every detail be included in the report.
Aside from the title the language used in the body of the article was professional and knowledgeable. It provided examples of the studies conducted and clarified when it discussed complex medical concepts. However, at the end of the article there was an example of Aporia that makes my issue with the title of the article all the more relevant.
There also haven't been low-carb clinical trials running long enough to reach "hard end points" – heart attack, stroke, or death. That means no one can say with certainty that a high-fat diet will make you live longer. That might be why so few doctors recommend them. (Daniel Duane, Men’s Journal)
The title of the article is, “Why Experts Now Think You Should Eat More Fat,” not, “Why Some Experts Now Think That There Is No Strong Evidence To Suggest That A High-Fat Diet Would Be Detrimental To Your Health, But Similarly There Is No Strong Evidence To Suggest That It Would Improve Your Quality Of Health.” It isn’t nearly as hard for the medical community to show correlation as it is to prove causation which is easily what could be happening in this study, it’s too early to tell. Too often, journalists will look at correlation in medical studies and think that something has been proved when in reality we have proved nothing. We humans have a special ability to recognize patterns, and this can get us in trouble when we rush things like this. This is diet information; people can afford to wait so they can ensure that they get it right the first time around. The information being conveyed in this article is too sensitive to be using plain language.
-Mitchell Spoerl

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