Because I don’t pick on The Age enough

While it’s true that in the past I’ve found the Herald Sun to be an easy target, let’s not forget the other Melbourne newspaper.

Browsing The Age website today, I came across the following link to an article in their Executive Style section:

When marathons kill, article from The Age

The article itself gives a reasonable precis of the report which it’s quoting (Kim JH, Malhotra R, Chiampas G, d’Hemecourt P, Troyanos C, Cianca J, Smith RN, Wang TJ, Roberts WO, Thompson PD, & Baggish AL 2012, “Cardiac arrest during long-distance running races”, New England Journal of Medicine, no. 366, pp, 130-140, doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1106468).

Specifically, it repeats the article’s main conclusions, which are:

Marathons and half-marathons are associated with a low overall risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death. Cardiac arrest, most commonly attributable to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or atherosclerotic coronary disease, occurs primarily among male marathon participants; the incidence rate in this group increased during the past decade.

That increase there being due to the greater number of people participating in marathons and half-marathons.

My concern is of course the sensationalist headline, which tries to emphasise the fear that running is in fact dangerous. A message somewhat at odds with the media releases from the institutions where the research was based, being the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University. Their stories were, respectively, Participating in marathons, half-marathons not found to increase risk of cardiac arrest and Good news for marathoners.

What have we learned here? I can think of at least two things:

  1. Never treat a newspaper headline as an accurate summary of scientific research; always read the actual story carefully, or preferably track down the original article.
  2. Whatever you may think of the paper itself, don’t assume newspaper websites are a reputable news source.
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