In doctor Ben Goldacre's wonderful book, Bad Science, it was commented that health is unfairly and unhelpfully dumbed-down in the media. The defense is typically that everything must be kept in a language that the lay person can understand. To counter this, Ben makes the point that there appears to be no dumbing-down in any of the other sections. In order to follow the points raised in the financial and economic sections, or the articles on politics, sport or even fashion, then it is usually necessary to have some background knowledge of these areas.
Politics, economics, fashion and sport all clearly have their histories and trends, so by having been exposed to developments over a period of years, media articles are quite straightforward to many. So why is health treated differently? There has been over a hundred years of research in to health-related physiology, and if one looks back over the scientific literature published over the last two decades then there are clear trends in almost every area of healthcare. But in the media all we ever get to hear of are the latest fads: "A recent study conducted (at/by somewhere/someone) has shown that (type of exercise/piece of exercise equipment/vitamin/food type/drug/diets rich in) leads to (decreased fat/increased physical performance/fewer colds/improved mental performance/slowed ageing)". Almost every week there is something new, and every time it is portrayed as if it is some kind of breakthrough and the end of all our problems. There is never any perspective, or even the faintest element of scientific rigour.
It is a shame, because it keeps potentially useful and important health information away from people. Diets have been reinvented so many times, and each time the bestsellers are those with celebrity-endorsements - not clearly evaluated scientific endorsements. But the science of dieting is out there, with decades' worth of trends and so on, but it has to be ignored for people to write modern diet books. It is too easy to say: "Eat plenty of fresh fish, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and fresh meat, and cut down on processed foods of all kinds", and so instead people publish tomes on why people should do something else, and somehow manage to make it sound scientific when really it is anything but. It is worse than a shame, because withholding important information, whilst presenting people with tainted, inaccurate views (especially when doing so to generate a profit), is clearly immoral and unethical.
Returning to doctor Goldacre, he mades the valid point that many people graduate with degrees in science and healthcare-related subjects, or else do work, or have worked, in healthcare. These people would quite possibly love to be stimulated by real, in-depth articles on matters of scientific and health-orientated interest. Similarly, had the media been permeated with articles focussed on the development and evolution of our understanding of biomedical sciences already, then most people would find scientific papers on health quite accessible.
Mark Hines has, to be fair, gone too far in the other direction. Rather than finding a middle ground from which to cleverly pave the way to a greater depth of information later on, he has gone straight in for the kill with some particularly academic and scientific review articles. But then, they might only seem extreme because so few of us have been exposed to this sort of thing, or the middle ground that should have been there all along. Although they might not make the most tantalising of reads, the information is dense and likely to be highly useful to the individuals they were aimed at. Scientific English often looks difficult to read because it has to be so concise, and it incorporates particular terms to be precise. This is really about efficiency. Scientific language is not anything like journalism. In journalism, the focus is to get a point across in the first paragraph to capture the readers attention, after which the substance comes later on. In a research review, the introduction is to state the case for why an investigation is required, after which each aspect is dealt with individually - comparing and contrasting all the appropriate papers on the same subject - before rounding the whole thing off with the findings, which is the opposite of what we see in mainstream journalism.
So, the first four articles included here are really academic, scientific reviews, which a few adaptations in language here and there to make them a little more palatable. When possible, we will upload more articles, and we expect to include some that cover a broader range of topics, and which perhaps tread into that middle-ground, between brainless media hype and the particularly academic and concise articles we have launched with here. In any case, we hope that some of the articles appeal, and that you enjoy reading them.