When Is It Fake News? Time Delays And Medical Breakthroughs.

I’m been tracking multiple newsfeeds, and adding Newsmax to my information diet has  made my life interesting. As a Conservative newsfeed, it doesn’t seem to give me that much of a different view politically. But it certainly sells me hard on medical news, which makes me wonder if being Conservative is a health risk.

A recent headline from Newsmax in October caught my eye, “CT Scans Tied to 24% Cancer Increase.” It’s certainly within the realm of possibility since increased exposure to X rays will increase your risk of cancer. But by a quarter? That’s a little bit of a stretch. So I went looking for the article.

Newsmax has a terrible habit of making it difficult to find the medical journal articles they are citing. There’s no direct link, and often only an oblique reference to the journal or the authors. I guess most Newsmax readers don’t care about the source as much as I do.

When I did find the article, it was published in 2013. So why is an article published in May of 2013 being promoted as new healthcare news in October of 2017? Is there a four year lag time for medical news on Newsmax? I don’t think so. I think the Newsmax medical author Dr. Brownstein may have finally gotten to his February article of this year which says that the additional CT risk of cancer for older patients is a whopping 0.05%. Unhappy with this result, he went back and decided to trumpet the 2013 result instead. It suits his personal message that CT scans are bad for you.

Now, both reports are correct. The more recent one in 2017 was on older people who smoked. Their additional risk of getting cancer from CT scans of their lungs is pretty low. The earlier study in 2013 was done on children in Australia. Having more CT scans done as a child when your cells are still rapidly dividing will raise your risk of cancer.

The take-home message on CT scans? Don’t irradiate your kids if you can help it, but smokers should get checked for cancer.

But I’m interested in the larger message. Is promoting the truth with a time lag the same as fabricating news? If someone was yelling “fresh apples!” and you bought them but the apples were four years old, I think a complaint is in order. It’s not enough that they were fresh once. Apples have a shelf-life of a few weeks.

In our instant world, what is the acceptable time lag for news? Is it a few hours, a few weeks, a few months, or a few years?

Or is news timeless? Can I write a blog post about handwashing being better for killing germs than those perfumed alcohol rinses every few years, and have it be news all over again? I wrote one of those back in 2013, so maybe our news cycle has done a full turnover since 2013 and I can start reposting my old blog posts as if they were all new again.





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