Science-ish -- Evidence-based health reporting
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Science-ish -- Evidence-based health reporting

A partnership between the McMaster Health Forum,
the Medical Post, and Maclean's magazine

(Note: After recently completing a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology, Julia Belluz has accepted a journalism position in Washington, D.C. The Science-ish blog is no longer active, but all posts are still accessible.)

The news media is one of the most powerful societal influences and is a leading source of health information, yet newspapers, TV shows and websites are filled with grandiose health claims and statements about healthcare that are not based on evidence.

In an effort to improve the state of public discourse on health issues, journalists at Maclean’s magazine and the Medical Post newspaper, and researchers at the McMaster Health Forum teamed up to launch Science-ish, a weekly blog that checked the latest health headlines against the best available research evidence and held politicians, healthcare leaders and other journalists to account for any ill-informed public statements (as well as celebrated instances of well-informed public statements).

Researchers at the Forum played an integral role in training former Maclean's and Medical Post writer Julia Belluz to find and use research evidence, by utilizing databases containing systematic reviews to inform her blog posts. Science-ish had access to the Health Systems Evidence database managed by the Forum, as well as three others: Evidence Updates, which is a joint project of McMaster’s Health Information Research Unit and the BMJ Evidence Centre that supports decisions on clinical topics; Health Evidence, based at McMaster and focused on public health topics; and the Cochrane Library, which provides independent, high-quality evidence on a range of topics.

The Forum also convened a virtual panel of experts, that Julia could contact for assistance in finding and using research evidence and in identifying potential topics and experts.

Using these resources, Julia was able to fact check health-related claims made in the media or other public domains, and interviewed experts to learn more about the best available research evidence rather than their personal opinions.

Journalistic independence and academic freedom were core values of the partnership between the Forum, Maclean's and the Medical Post. While the Forum provides resource support for the blog, it was not directly involved in developing the content.

Since launching in the summer of 2011, the popularity of Science-ish grew steadily, and became one of the most-visited blogs on both the Maclean’s magazine and Medical Post websites.

Topics addressed were timely, and often controversial. Here’s a sample of headlines:

Do doctor bonuses actually improve health care?

What do we really know about e-health? Not much

Does WiFi pose health risks?

Visit the Science-ish blog archive to view all of the blogs.

Julia BelluzJulia Belluz

Julia Belluz is a former associate editor at the Medical Post, and a National Magazine Award-winning journalist who focuses on healthcare and medical politics.

She has recently started working for Vox.com, a recently launched news website based in Washington, D.C., after completing a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology.

Prior to joining the Medical Post, she spent one year as a reporting intern at Maclean’s magazine, writing mostly about national and international affairs, society, and healthcare.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ryerson University in 2007, where she won the Gordon Sinclair fellowship that subsidizes one young Canadian journalist to attend graduate school. She moved to the U.K. to attend the London School of Economics where she earned an M.Sc. in anthropology in 2008, and was awarded the Bernard Levin writing award for a six-month internship at the Times of London newspaper.

She later worked at Intelligent Life in the Economist as an editorial assistant, and with the Globe and Mail bureau as a freelance reporter, before returning to Canada.

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