For a lot of people a breakfast with a sandwich, egg, yoghurt and fresh orange juice might sound like an amazing meal on a lazy Sunday morning. Nowadays, people pay more and more attention to their physical appearance and health. Even certain extreme health freaks have abandoned daily products such as bread, potatoes and pasta from their meals. Instead they eat salads, power food, quinoa, hummus, smoothie or some other form of biological or healthy food. These are just a few examples. Nevertheless, how do you define being healthy nowadays? Certain products used to be very healthy but in today’s society they appear to be unhealthy. But is this really the case? Take the example of orange juice, how can it be healthy over the last centuries and suddenly one claims that drinking a glass of orange juice is as bad as drinking a glass of Coke or Pepsi. Has it to do with data validation? I believe that the problem lies with the “misinterpretation” of data by the journalist. It could be that journalists misinterpret findings on purpose so that they can write a good story and present results much more severe than they are in reality. Furthermore, lack of statistical knowledge could also explain why misinterpretation arise. Besides, I think that people easily believe what researchers say without thinking rational. Yesterday a friend of mine said the following “if a researcher states something it must be true, also because they are smart”.
(1) Image taken from theguardian.com
First of all, lets have a look at what data exactly is. According to Rogers an essential element for researchers or journalist when writing an article is having good data that can support their story or arguments. Every good story needs data. But where do you find the correct data? If you want to write an article about a certain situation it is not really difficult to find data, in the Netherlands a lot of data is public and everyone can have access to it. Imagine you want to find out in which city the healthiest people live or how many people are diabetic. Basically you just have to go to a search engine like Google, enter a few relevant search queries and the answer to your question will pop-up within only a few seconds. As Rogers stated in his online module most data exists in a spreadsheet package, such as Microsoft Excel, in numbers. In order to be able to use the data it is important that data is organized properly so it can be understood easily. Therefore, it is for journalists important to have some basic knowledge regarding data and statistics.
It often happens that citizens receive the wrong information because they have read a news article where a journalist has drawn a wrong conclusion from certain datasets or interpreted data incorrectly. Before a journalist is able to write a good story, it is necessary that the data has been understood correctly. Rogers also stated in his video module: “It is very important to select the right data or the data you need to support your story”. Furthermore, as reader it is important to take the source in mind when a writer is suggesting something. If someone bases an argument on a source such as The Gloss you should not take it too serious. This is just an extreme example, in real-life this is probably not the case with scientific news. However, I would like you to think a few seconds about the following question: did you ever check the sources journalists are referring to?
In the beginning of this month a lot of people could not stop talking about the new guidelines for good nutrition from the Dutch Health Counsel. This is an organization that advises citizens about the influence of certain type of food on people’s health. Have you any idea why this was such a hot topic in the latest news? According to Galtung and Ruge (1965) (later Harcup & O’Neill, 2001) certain features need to be present will an event become news. In their research they describe the Galtung and Ruge’s 12 news factors. One of them is expectedness and this factor can be applied to the news article about orange juice. The factor refers to the most unexpected or rare events, in this case a comparison of orange juice with Pepsi and an in creased chance of getting diabetic type 2. A lot of people cannot imagine that a glass of fresh orange is as bad as drinking a glass of soda or diabetic as possible consequence. In most recent advisory report they state the following: a glass of fresh juice such as orange juice is as unhealthy as a glass of Pepsi or Fanta. Furthermore, they state that fruit juice is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. For a lot of people this could be shocking news. In my opinion you should not directly believe everything people say in the news but first think about it yourself before you draw any conclusions. A lot of research has shown that it is better to eat fruit than drinking fruit, this is because when you drink fruit in a liquid form it is observed fast by your body. This results in a fulfilled feeling. Think about the following, can you drink five glasses of orange juice a day? Can you eat five oranges a day? The chance is big that most people are more able to drink five glasses orange juices than eating five oranges. If researchers state that orange juice is unhealthy do they mean fresh orange juice or orange juice from a can or bottle? Additionally, can you compare sugar from fruit with artificial sugar? Just a few points to think about.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends to obtain maximum 10% of your energy needs from sugar. This is roughly about 50 gram or two glasses of soda. The infographic below (2) shows which foods are high in sugar and where the sugar comes from. Furthermore, they state that by eating balanced and in moderation it will reduce the risk of diabetic. Their main point is to eat balanced with every type food, either healthy or unhealthy. Vitamins are healthy but too many vitamins are not good either. Therefore, I personally doubt if you can compare fresh orange juice with Pepsi and if you can state that drinking orange juice increase the risks of diabetic. What all matter is to reflect on the validation of data. What I am missing in the orange juice case is numbers which are supporting the story. For instance, they state that fruit juices are associated with an increased risk of diabetes 2. But what is the increased risk when you drink juices? Is it 1% or 21%?
(2) Image taken from sap.je
What I would like to point out is that it is sometimes not clear if a journalist misinterpreted the data or if they did it on purpose so that they can present finding much more severe than they are in the real word. This is also what Dowden (2010) describes, journalists often ignore their mistakes or misinterpret data on purpose in order to make it more interesting. A possible explanation for this phenomenon could be due to high competition. Furthermore, it could be that readers would like to read more extreme and exciting stories. Maybe if you would have compared orange juice with apple juice it would not have been in the news. I would like to end my story with a quote from data guru Stephan Few: “Numbers have an important story to tell. They rely on you to give them a clear and convincing voice.”