Misleading Headline Case #692

newspaperNPR that bastion of objective reporting published the following headline on the Salt for a story that ran on All Things Considered as well:

“How Much Is Too Much? New Study Casts Doubts On Sugar Guidelines”

It makes you think that triple scoop of Baskin Robbins may not be so bad for you after all, doesn’t it.

The headline is utter nonsense. First of all, we find slipped into a sentence in the second paragraph that this is an industry-funded study. Hmm. I wonder why they decided to publish and promote this?

But more importantly, when you read the study it shows nothing of the kind. This so-called “study”, which is just a meta-study of the real science and involves no new data, shows that the science behind choosing a specific guideline about how much sugar should be a part of one’s diet is uncertain.  Should it be 5% or 10%? The science isn’t fine grained enough to be sure.

Well of course that’s uncertain. It would be enormously expensive and time consuming to do studies that would sort out with high probability the precise healthy level of sugar in our diets.

But the fact that we don’t know what the precise guidelines are does not entail there should be no guidelines at all. This bit of elementary logic seems to escape the attention of the vaunted reporters and editors at our flagship news outlet.

And did the reporter investigate to see if this meta-study left out important contrary research that might be relevant? No e

Of course, specific guidelines are going to be a best guess. That is the best medical authorities can do until we get much more data.

But nothing in the underlying data casts doubt on the role of sugar in obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.

When the history of the post-truth society is written (should there be a future in which people care about such matters) it will be media organizations that will be justly held responsible.

No one has any good reason to read or listen to these people who claim to be journalists.

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