Monday, July 6, 2015

Questions on Bias Raised by the New York Times

One article that caught my attention this weekend focused on the emergence of weight-loss clinics as healthcare laws have changed to require insurance companies to cover obesity screenings and treatment. This topic is pretty closely related to the one I am pursuing for my final project, so it was very informative to see how the opposing sides were written about and the weight they were given.

While reading the article I had a hard time not feeling biased - in part due to my own knowledge and beliefs, but also I think in part because of how the information was presented. Partially, the article spent time explaining what these new weight-loss clinics do: their methodologies, philosophies, patient stories and doctor explanations.

However the article was really about the financial gains that these clinics can make under the new insurance laws, and how this creates a conflict of interest. This combination of information left me skeptical of the weight-loss clinicians who were interviewed for the article, which perhaps it should have. Maybe none of these doctors really believe they are helping their patients and their responses are always as convoluted as they sound in the article. Maybe the answers I wanted to read just didn't fit in the allotted space.

While the weight-loss clinicians explained their methods, none of them directly addressed the fact that these techniques are not scientifically proven, there is a very low success rate, and medical doctors repeatedly warn (even within the article) that extreme restrictive dieting actually results in weight gain more often than loss. The author seemed to rely on other doctors who were clearly opposed to these clinics to introduce and back-up this information, which is good, but why did the reader never get an opportunity to hear back from the clinicians? Again, maybe their answers were simply not substantive, but that actually seems important to reveal as well.

The article closes with a quote by the patient who introduced the issue in the lede, about how she is okay with paying a large chunk of the treatment cost out of pocket because she doesn't quite meet the required weight for "obese". This raised a whole other set of questions for me about if she knew how unproven the methods are, why nutrition counseling didn't work, if she was ever treated for depression (she mentioned feeling depressed at the beginning of the article), etc. I felt that the article  sided with the anti-weight-loss-clinic mentality, but also didn't give voice to anyone who saw obesity as more than a weight problem. I thought the psychological aspects of the issue were essentially ignored, which could simply be a reflection of the medical approach, but I wonder if that really warrants the reporter not seeking it out.

From an entirely different section, I came across this article that takes a very different approach to co-authoring than the examples we have seen in class:

I assume this article was organized this way because the authors are fairly well known reviewers, so each of their individual voices are important to the reader. It was effective, in my opinion, to hear a male and a female voice on this topic, and especially to hear where they agree and depart from each other's perspectives.

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