And last of all comes commercial television current affairs. Well, what a surprise. An analysis of Australian media coverage of media matters has found that commercial current affairs television does by far the least satisfactory job. A group of academics, operating as Media Doctor, have published the findings of their media analysis Does It Matter Who Writes Medical News Stories? in the current issue of PLoS Medicine.

In the belief that the media can influence health literacy and health-seeking behaviours, they examined whether experienced specialist health reporters write better stories than other categories of journalists. In their summary they conclude:

We compared the quality of stories written by specialist and non-specialist journalists, and those sourced from major news organisations, in Australia from 2004–08.

We found that it does matter who writes news stories that cover the benefits and harms of health care interventions. Stories written by specialist health journalists working for a single media outlet scored more highly than those written by less experienced writers.

Our findings are important because this source of health literacy is currently under pressure as falling revenues threaten the future of the traditional media.

17-09-2010 medicalnews

The mean scores were highest for the broadsheet newspapers and lowest for the human-interest current affairs programs. The difference between the average scores of the highest and lowest performing media outlets was 26.1% (95% CI 19.9%, 32.2%). The variation in unadjusted scores between the highest and lowest performing categories of journalists was less — a range of 15.5% (95% CI 11.2%, 19.8%).

Humiliated by Oprah Winfrey. I have failed miserably on the Oprah Winfrey test. In preparation for her visit to Australia the great performer put up a little know your Australia test on her website and I stupidly agreed to test my knowledge.


Rather shamefacedly I confess to getting only four out of 10 answers  correct. Have a go yourself but no Googling please.

An opportunity missed? The notion of having an independent speaker for the House of Representatives is starting to look shaky already as the Opposition starts back-tracking on its support for a better-run and more relevant Parliament. It now looks as if the Independent Member for Lyne Rob Oakeshott will not get the support of Liberals and Nationals when the choice has to be made. That will be a pity.

Death and destruction in Pakistan and nobody cares. Kevin Rudd has gone off to Pakistan as a way of expressing Australia’s support for that country struck by floods but Australia as a whole seems to care little about the many millions who are now suffering. It is hard to know why but there is not the normal sympathy I would have expected.

Perhaps Joseph Stalin had the answer when he once claimed that a single death was a tragedy, but a million deaths was a statistic. New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University validates this sentiment, confirming large-scale tragedies don’t connect with people emotionally in the same way smaller tragedies do.

The new study, entitled “The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why doing more harm is judged to be less harmful,” has been published in the current issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE) and was conducted by Loran Nordgren of the Kellogg School of Management and Mary-Hunter Morris of Harvard Law School.

The researchers found that a “scope-severity paradox” exists in which judgment of harm tends to be based on emotional reactions, and thus people have a stronger emotional response to singular identifiable victims rather than to an entire crowd of sufferers.