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Giving Legs to Restless Legs: A Case Study of How the Media Helps Make People Sick

  • Steven Woloshin equal contributor mail,

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Steven Woloshin, Lisa M Schwartz

    To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: steven.woloshin@dartmouth.edu.

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  • Lisa M Schwartz equal contributor

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Steven Woloshin, Lisa M Schwartz

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  • Published: April 11, 2006
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030170
  • Featured in PLOS Collections

Reader Comments (3)

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Disease Mongering; Need of Regulation

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:54 GMT

Author: Ahmad A.Sabri
Position: No occupation was given
Institution: No affiliation was given
E-mail: ayaz153@hotmail.com
Additional Authors: Mohammad Ahad Qayyum
Submitted Date: May 05, 2006
Published Date: May 9, 2006
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

An awareness among journalists and media personnel of the consequences of disease mongering is essential. These actions might not have immediate serious results but in the long run these would lead to grave consequences. After a couple of decades, people might be completely ignoring those serious diseases which need immediate treatment, while thinking of benign conditions as serious and life threatening. Such a mindset would be a disaster, not only for such people but also for heath professionals.

Prevention is always better than cure. We need to focus on the prevention of disease mongering, rather than its cure. News coverage has exaggerated the prevalence of disease and the need for treatment, and has failed to consider the problems of overdiagnosis [1]. These actions pollute the minds as well as the medical literature for masses. Scientific fraud can divert the search for truth, and it pollutes the record of that search - that is the scientific literature [2]. Publication of such material also falls into the category of scientific fraud.

Prudent efforts are needed to curtail this epidemic of misconception about various diseases. There are three ways of countering the effects, one is a drastic immediate approach, the second is slow long term actions, and the third is drastic approach after strong misconceptions have already been established. The most effective and easiest way is to act swiftly with drastic measures. We cannot totally rely on 'responsible behavior' of journalists and the media in this regard. We must have regulatory authorities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with legislative reforms, to ensure that all the medical claims receive prior approval from the authority before publication in news papers or magazines. The other two ways are too slow and too late to be effective.

It takes years to create strong misconceptions among the masses but it requires decades to counter it. Well thought immediate steps today can solve this problem before it's too late.

References

1. Woloshin S, Schwartz LM (2006) Giving Legs to Restless Legs: A Case Study of How the Media Helps Make People Sick. PLoS Med 3(4): e170 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030170

2. Sox H.C, Rennie.D, Research misconduct, retraction and cleansing the medical literature: lessons from the Poehlman case. Ann Intern Med. 2006 Mar 6 PMID:16522625

No competing interests declared.