Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Being a Medical Writer

One distinctive characteristic any medical or science writer should have is the drive to communicate scientific facts, not subjective ideas. In other words, we do evidence-based writing, not emotional I-feel-like-it stories that are not backed up by science.

This doesn't mean that our articles, books, or documents should not have a human side, but it means that we always go back to the data, to what the science says. Otherwise, there would be no difference between a medical writer and a novelist (I write fiction too, but I would never take the same artistic liberties I take then, when doing a medical writing piece).

All this rambling comes about because of an article I just read by CNN"s Dr. Gupta. Interestingly, it's about my topic of expertise, vaccine safety, so I have a good grasp of the scientific issues at hand. Here's an excerpt from Gupta's article:

Stories suggesting a link between vaccines and autism are very pervasive and proponents of the theory are vocal. But even though there is no scientifically sound research to support it, the speculation persists. Despite the emotion inherent in this debate, I am a medical writer who has read many studies finding no connection between autism and vaccines– including a recent one from California showing that the incidence of autism had actually gone up despite the removal of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal from most vaccines and an earlier study from Denmark.

Still, in the back of my mind, a little voice whispered, “What if one of my girls is genetically predisposed, and this is the environmental trigger…” Or “What if one of my girls receives one too many vaccines today, and it pushes her immune system over the edge.”

Okay. So he knows the science doesn't back up the alleged vaccines-autism link, but still he fears. Is that human? Well, yes, but most humans are not evidence-based. Science and medicine, however, must be. And so do medical writers.

Thanks for reading.

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