Star's Gardasil story points to larger issue in health reporting

To those who watch the way science gets covered in the news today, The Star's Gardasil story is just the latest case in a long line of shoddy scientific reporting. As part of our Eye on the Media series, we look at why the media so often falters when it comes to reporting on important public health issues.
The HPV vaccine Gardasil has been administered to hundreds of thousands of teenage Canadian girls, so any "dark side" to the drug would be alarming news. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)
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To those who watch the way science gets covered in the news today, The Star's Gardasil story is just the latest case in a long line of shoddy scientific reporting. As part of our Eye on the Media series, we look at why the media so often falters when it comes to reporting on important public health issues.

Last week, The Toronto Star published an article with a big, bold headline: HPV vaccine Gardasil has a dark side, Star investigation finds.

The HPV vaccine Gardasil has been administered to hundreds of thousands of teenage Canadian girls. So any darkside to the drug would be upsetting news. And that is what the story appeared to suggest. It featured several young women whose health had deteriorated after getting the shot -- one girl even died.

But the Star's investigation shocked the scientific community not for its findings, but for its failings. Just because an illness develops after a shot, it does not follow that one caused the other. And reams of scientific studies have already proven that Gardasil is safe.

A headline heralding a dark side is of course alarming. People who don't read the entire story are going to see photo captions that don't have any of the nuance or the context that was tried to be included in the story.- The Toronto Star's Public Editor, Kathy English

Amid the outcry, The Star published an op-ed by more than 60 doctors criticizing the paper's reporting and arguing that science shows there is "no dark side" to Gardasil. And publisher John Cruickshank this week told As It Happens that the paper failed the public with the way the story was framed, and the headline it used.

But for many, The Star's Gardasil story just one example of problematic news reporting on important public health issues.

To discuss, we were joined by:

How do you feel about the use of anecdotes in reporting on health issues?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch, Sarah Grant and Sonya Buyting.