A Few Months of Journalism Class treats headline writers

A sad example of how science - interesting science - is digested by the public information stream:

A Few Months of Talk Therapy Treats Bulimia

No wonder people are confused. Headlines like this, that take something useful like "Bulimia-specific CBT 'takes around 4 to 5 months'" and turn it into a meaningless and global prescription.

Every month or so some syndicated headline will declare eating disorders "biological" or "inadvertently caused by parents" or "on the rise" and everyone comments on it and then it is lost until the next headline. None of these headlines are accurate (disease is too complex to boil down to a single Eureka headline), and no one is convinced.These tag lines just get used by those who want to believe them or don't want to believe them as a "so there" against the other one. It matters not whether the headline stems from truth or good science or not: it is all blenderized into a tasteless sludge with every other pronouncement.

Anyway, don't stop at the headline here: go on to the abstract and the paper itself.


  1. Interesting study. I wonder if its the particular therapy studied -- CBT -- or the fact that it's specifically tailored to bulimia that's more of the cause for success. In my experiences with a revolving door of therapists, very few have a grasp of eating disorders and how to treat them.

    As for the headline, sure it's vague and possibly misleading. Usually copy-editors and not reporters who write the headlines, but regardless, a clever and spot-on headline can be difficult to write, even more so than the writing of the entire story.

  2. I'm not really blaming the reporters (who, as you said, don't write the headline) or even the editors - as a writer myself I know they are generalists and this field is confusing even to experts.

    Yet I do worry for readers, because we assume that the writer and paper know what they are talking about. Parents are rarely experts in science and scientific writing - and much of our information comes to us from the press. Media savvy is just another one of the tools parents need, I guess!

  3. Oh, and I wonder that too about CBT and the specific intervention for BN. I'm glad to see these techniques being adapted and research being done. There is much to learn, and much need!


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