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Posts Tagged ‘irresponsible

How do you balance the need to create a headline good enough to get readers to click through and getting an important message across? These should not be on opposite sides, but they are in a CNA news article.

This was the tweeted headline from CNA (screenshot below, in case the original tweet is deleted).

The actual article reported this:

First, ask yourself: How many people bother to click through, i.e., read beyond the headline?

Next, if readers do not read the article, they are left with the information that there are at least 2,700 reports of adverse vaccination effects among 2.2 million doses.

The potential impact of the headline is the attention paid to the 2,700 reaction cases. This creates or reinforces fear that fuels vaccination hesitancy. 

How many then learn that the adverse effects were classified into not-so adverse (common reactions) and actually adverse (serious reactions)?  The latter was represented by 95 cases.

That number of cases is 0.004% of doses administered (95/2,213,888 x 100). The article stated 0.04% which is 10 times higher. The same article has a table which reports the correct figure of 0.004%. The percentage in the main body of the text and the table do not match.

Finally, how many rationalise that 0.004% is a very small incident rate? How low is this chance? You have a 1 in 25,000 random chance getting a severe reaction to vaccination.

How unlikely is 1 in 25,000? I found a summary site of statistics maintained by someone who mined NSC and CDC data. If we were in the USA in 2002, each person had a 1 in 25,000 chance of being murdered with a gun.

If that is hard to relate to, then you get my point. The tiny chance and the large number of doses are difficult to rationalise. Suffice to say that the chance of reacting severely to the vaccination (or being gunned down) is very small.

Think of it this way: If you were in the USA and not terribly afraid that you were going to get shot, you should not be afraid that you are going to react severely to the vaccination.

The issue that writers and editors of newspaper headlines do not seem to understand is human psychology. People tend to focus on the part of the headline that screamed “reports of suspected adverse effects”. The headline also includes the initialism HSA, Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority. So it might come across as a warning. The number of cases could have been 27 or 270, but the focus would have been on the authority and the adversity.

The messaging is important. Recipients have a right to know the possible side effects of the vaccination. The HSA was transparent with its statistics. However, the news agency was irresponsible with the clickbait headline and the wrong calculated figure of the severe cases in the main body of its text.

The tweet and report above are fodder for anti-vaccination Facebook groups and taxi uncles alike. The headline is irresponsible because it implies causality. However, no other factors for the death were explored or considered in the tweeted article.

Contrast the lack of context and information to the tweet thread below.

If I had to fault the tweet, I would point out that it did not immediately provide sources for the numbers. However, a Guardian article in the second part of Dr Clarke’s thread reported:

The MHRA, which collects reports of side-effects on drugs and vaccines in the UK through its “yellow card” scheme, told the Guardian it had received more notifications up until 28 February of blood clots on the Pfizer/BioNTech than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – 38 versus 30 – although neither exceed the level expected in the population.

The MHRA is the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.

The actual numbers of blood clot cases will vary over time, but the fact remains that the incidents are so low as to be below actual chance. What does that mean?

In an actual population, a certain number of people would naturally get blood clots. Take this thought experiment: We inject the entire population with saline that mimics blood plasma that has no drugs or vaccines in it. The result: More people will get blood clots with that saline jab than the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine.

The AZ vaccine use is new and the blood clot cases might rise. But for now the data indicate what Dr Clarke and others in the Guardian article have said — it is safe to use, not using it is dangerous.

Thankfully some good sense has prevailed since I started drafting this reflection. The BBC news report below revealed how the EU has declared the vaccine to be safe for continued use.

Video source

I have two takeaways from reading both news reports. The first is the image quote below.

It's easy to lie with statistics, but it's hard to tell the truth without them. -- Andrejs Dunkels

My second is a parallel in teaching. Just as CNA was irresponsible for its misleading article, it is just as bad to teach content without context. While the use of vaccines has regulatory bodies that will correct wayward action, everyday teaching does not.

The AZ vaccine might see a quick comeback with investigation and regulation. But teaching that focuses primarily on content and teaching to the test has a long term detriment — it nurtures students who cannot think for themselves.

Today’s rant is about the irresponsibility of some news rags and the importance of developing critical literacy among our learners.

In his critique of homework, Alfie Kohn ripped into poor and irresponsible reports by newspapers of research articles. I suspect that the reporters were not literate enough in the field of practice they were writing about or their editors had broader agendas to fulfill.

I might say the same of the Straits Times (ST) take on Tata Communications report, Connected World II: Where does the Internet come from?. ST labelled us the “second most Internet-addicted people in the world”.


At no point in the report did Tata suggest Internet addiction. This phrase was not in the summary of findings nor in the research implications.

The Tata report made reference to “our growing reliance on the constant flow of information through digital media”, but that does not imply addiction. We rely on the Internet for information, work, entertainment, and education.

ST was entitled to make their interpretation, of course. But was this justified given the larger context of Tata’s research? Was this ethical given the responsibility of a newspaper to report and inform?

ST did not provide a link to the original report and I had to look for it. If ST wanted to make that claim, why not link to Tata’s study in part to give credit, in part to answer unanswered questions?

ST knows that most people will not question their interpretation of the study or bother to ask even the most superficial questions.

Juicy headlines sell newspapers, never mind if they are accurate or not. And as long as ST does not step on government toes or breach OB markers, they can keep dancing and sailing.

That is why our learners must learn critical information literacy. They must learn not to take anything at face value.

These days doing some research online is not like going the extra mile. It is an extra yard. By working smarter, a learner need only take an extra step that could make a difference in being informed or being misled.


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