TV Bites With
by Neena Louise
There's been an explosion of "a new survey suggests"
scare-mongering on television lately. Every single day, a new survey
brings doom and gloom. However, many of these surveys contradict what a
"new" survey had "suggested" the week before
(sometimes the DAY before), and it started me wondering: Where do these
surveys come from? You rarely hear the sources of these alleged
ground-breaking surveys and if you do, the specific study is very rarely
quoted, nor are you informed whether it is a scientific survey or merely
an informal poll. Considering television is out for sensationalism
rather than the public good, I find these survey proclamations suspect
and can't help but wonder just how sound the science behind the headline
The latest is that fat people are something like 40% more likely to
develop cancer. I found this a startling statement and did some digging.
Turns out, this statistic is based on a 9-year-old study where weight
was the only factor studied in cancer rates. It made me wonder how much
of this supposed cancer risk increase was based on a poor diet (since
the obese tend not to eat healthily) rather than weight. I know lots of
fat people that regularly exercise and eat healthy (though, perhaps, too
much) food. I know lots of thin people that eat nothing but junk and
never exercise. Were these factors even considered in the study? And who
funded this study? And who compiled the data? And why did it get no
media attention 9 years ago when it was first published if it was such
an important issue? And where did the weight statistics come from? From
telephone surveys? How many people do you know that, although
they are at a perfectly "normal" weight, insist they are 10
pounds overweight? I now have more questions than answers and that's
from only one survey.
I was stunned to see a 20/20 episode totally dedicated to the
issue of television reporting and all the misinformation it spews to the
gullible public. Everything I always knew to be true was confirmed:
Television news is often inaccurate. 20/20 reporter John Stossel
should be commended for putting himself out there, crying "mea
culpa" when he admitted how many inaccurate stories he,
himself, had reported. Doubly admirable when he proceeded to correct
many other less-than-accurate news pieces. Stossel also explained why
this happens and its simplicity is beautiful: TV is a business and it
needs ratings to survive; the more exploitive the story, the more people
watch, the better the ratings. The line between truth and fiction gets
fuzzier in the quest for ratings and using a survey that "maybe,
might, could, perhaps" suggest some frightening statistic is the
easiest way to blur that line.
It's very easy to manipulate survey data to fit whatever point you'd
like to make. And to acquire survey data, all one has to do is get on
the phone, ask one question, compile the answers and claim "a new
survey suggests...". There's something everyone needs to keep in
mind: "a survey suggests" is just that: a suggestion. A hint.
A nuance. A perhaps. It is not FACT. Television news is out for ratings
and exploitation, not public good. We are never told how the survey
(and/or study) results were arrived at, nor are we are ever informed
about how sound the science is behind these surveys/studies, nor does
the media generally bother to investigate these surveys/studies. We
should not, therefore, form any kind of opinion based solely on what
some sensationalistic yellow journalistic survey-quoting news piece has
to say. After all, an attitude adopted from vague survey references will
be almost impossible to change once it hardens into an opinion - whether
or not the truth ever becomes known.
We really must stop being so gullible.
would love to know what you think, sound off on the
boards and let us know what you think!