Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Iced Tea, Kidney Stones, and the Non-Existent Study

MedPage?Today Link

This young woman is off to a great start in her science journalism career.
Taylor Kubota wrote on her blog, “Making Studies Out of Nothing At All.”  She begins:
“The other day someone recommended that I write about the connection between iced tea and kidney stones. These painful deposits of minerals and salt that form in the urinary tract are of particular interest to me because I am the daughter of a 10-time kidney stone sufferer. As soon as I started Googling about for more information on my possible story, I saw that my curiosity had company. Articles all over the web were citing a new study that said iced tea drinkers are at an increased risk for this painful ailment.
Unfortunately, that study everyone was so hyped about doesn’t exist.
It all started with a Loyola University news release. In it Dr. John Milner, a urologist and an assistant professor in Department of Urology at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, warns that iced tea contains high levels of oxalate* (a chemical known to cause calcium stones, which are the most common type of kidney stone) and that, therefore, drinking a lot of iced tea might increase an individual’s risk of developing kidney stones. (In case your wondering: Dr. Milner went on to say in the release that hot tea — which also contains oxalate — is less of a concern merely because people in the U.S. don’t consume as much of it as they do its iced counterpart.)
Altogether the information in the release was pretty interesting stuff and I actually learned a lot from it. What I didn’t learn was why Loyola University wrote it. So I did what I would think most journalists would do and I called the press office (the phone number for which was conveniently located at the top of the news release). I spoke with one of the media relations people and asked whether there was a study attached to this release or if it was just a helpful tip. I was told it was the latter and we said our goodbyes. That call of less than 2 minutes killed my story and gave life to this blog post.
As a reader of science journalism you deserve to know that it is (regrettably) common for reporters to rewrite press releases without doing any additional reporting.”
Indeed, Newsday reported: “People who drink iced tea may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing painful kidney stones, a new study indicates.”  Where’d they get that?  Probably from Healthday, which reported what we show you here:

Read Taylor Kubota’s entire post.  And join me in wishing her a great career in science journalism.  We need to find room for young journalists like her in a needy industry.
Gary Schwitzer
Health News Watchdog Blog
Gary Schwitzer has specialized in health care journalism in his more than 30-year career in radio, television, interactive multimedia and the Internet. He is publisher of the website, leading a team of more than two dozen people who grade daily health news reporting by major U.S. news organizations. In its first year, the project was honored with several journalism industry awards - the Mirror Award, honoring those who "hold a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit," and the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism. His blog - which is embedded within - was voted 2009 Best Medical Blog in competition hosted by

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