Forgets to tell us how much: Remember when dentists would recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chewed gum?
It was a famous sales pitch, sponsored by the people at Trident. To their credit, those people knew they ought to say how many dentists did this.
The people at Trident used their numbers! This was their famous sales pitch:
“4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”
Four out of five dentists did that? That worked out to eighty percent!
We thought of the savvy people at Trident when we read yesterday’s New York Times. Doggone it! Robert Pear did a full-sized report about the nation’s doctors. His unpleasant headline said this:
“Doctors Who Profit From Radiation Prescribe It More Often, Study Finds.”
Uh–oh! Pear was reporting on a new study. Just last week, we complained about the way top journalists almost always conduct such reporting.
Sure enough! Pear’s report displayed the very weakness we described!
What did Pear say about the new study? According to his account of the study, doctors with “a financial interest” in radiation treatments are more likely to recommend them—much more likely, in fact:
PEAR (8/19/13): Doctors who have a financial interest in radiation treatment centers are much more likely to prescribe such treatments for patients with prostate cancer, Congressional investigators say in a new report.It sounded bad. But as Ed McMahon might have said, How bad was it?
The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said that Medicare beneficiaries were often unaware that their doctors stood to profit from the use of radiation therapy. Alternative treatments may be equally effective and are less expensive for Medicare and for beneficiaries, the report said. In other recent studies, the auditors found a similar pattern when doctors owned laboratories and imaging centers that billed Medicare for CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging.
How much more likely are these doctors to recommend radiation treatment?
Pear wrote a full-length report. It ran more than 700 words. But it was just like we told you last week:
Pear never used his numbers to tell us how much more likely those doctors were to recommend radiation! How much more likely is “much more likely?”
Pear never tried to say.
Are doctors ten percent more likely? Is it more like sixty percent? The journalist never attempted to say. We the rubes never found out.
As we told you last week, this is one of our favorite pet peeves. It’s a tremendously common journalistic practice—and it makes no earthly sense.
The people at Trident used their numbers. Top modern journalists don’t.