2021 – Spring
The Beat: Health: Separating Hope from Hype (Print/Online track)
Course Number: JOUR-UA 201, section 1
Day & Time: Tue | 9:30 AM – 1:10 PM
Location: 20 Cooper Square, room 652
Instructor: Ivan Oransky, MD
Prerequisites: Journalistic Inquiry JOUR-UA 101
A COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available until sometime in 2021. Or it will be available before Election Day 2020. There are effective drugs against the virus, or there aren’t. What are our readers, viewers, and listeners to believe as they try to keep up with a never-ending parade of headlines and pronouncements by public officials?
Of course, this is not a new problem, even if it has become worse during the pandemic. For years, we have read that coffee prevents diabetes. It also gives you cancer. The same is true for chocolate and red wine. And eggs? Clearly eggs are both the worst possible food for your heart, and the best possible food for your ticker. Oh, and we’re growing horns on our heads because of cell phones.
All of these were real articles, often in reputable publications. And it’s a good bet you’ve read the headlines. But none are true – at least, not scientifically proven. Yet, because of the way health news is covered, you probably believe something that’s not true.
Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s foray into wellness, hawks a wide array of quackery, from the Vaginal Steamer to Psychic Vampire Repellant and Sex Dust. Anti-vaxxers claim, without proof, that vaccines cause autism, and in their zeal have resorted to issuing death threats against a Californian legislator trying to quash vaccination exemptions for school kids. One of the most frequent forms of fake news on Facebook, according to one study, involves wellness articles.
This class emphasizes critical thinking and skeptical reporting. We’ll rip apart studies in class, so that students can go out and do that on their own. Then students will turn those analyses into stories that every editor will want. We’ll figure out where oft-quoted numbers come from, and turn those fact-checks into stories, too. You’ll write rigorously reported profiles of doctors, nurses, patients, medical researchers, entrepreneurs and con men and women. Then we’ll pitch these stories to serious publications.
Notes: Required for students pursuing the print/online track in the journalism major. Also required for the minor in print and online journalism. Counts as an elective for the minor in broadcast and multimedia journalism.