Berlin Capital Program

The Fulbright Young Journalists had the opportunity to mingle with other young US journalists, who were in Germany for the Berlin Capital Program. We joined them for their day trip to Hamburg.

We met with ARD anchor Ingo Zamperoni, who showed us around the studios and talked to us about the organization's history. I asked Zamperoni about what he thought the differences were between the US and Germany in television news. He said two things that I thought were interesting. First of all, he said that the US is more focused on its audience, which is illustrated by the polarization of American news channels. "News is more of a business in the US," Zamperoni said. He added that much of German news is publicly funded.

He also said that US news is "faster" and, perhaps, three to four years ahead in terms of social media.

So, if the US foreshadows the future for German media, I wonder if Zamperoni likes what he sees... ;)

We also visited Der Spiegel and met with Spiegel editor Ralf Hoppe. He told us about some stories that he was working on and how he reported them. Since these are works in progress, I can't write about them here. But I must say, he sounds like an amazing storyteller. "A lie is a bad version of a dream," Hoppe said, while referring to a story that will be in next week's Spiegel.

We then walked to the Hamburg America Center, where journalism professor Mike Schäfer talked to us about climate change and science journalism. He thinks that the hot topics of journalism now may be genomics and artificial life.

Finally, it was time for Glühwein and roasted bratwurst! We ended the day by going to the Hamburg Rathaus and checking out the Weihnachtsmarkt there.

Action packed day. I was so exhausted when the day was over. I think this picture says it all.

Kaffee mit einem Journeyman

The story of Fabian Sixtus Körner caught my attention at the TEDxBerlin talks. His tale of traveling the world, working for room and board, and coming home a wiser, kinder man resonated strongly with me. I think this is the dream of my generation, and I don't consider it strictly an "American dream" by any means. People came up with all sorts of terms and expressions for this concept, but it all boils down to the same thing. Fabian calls himself the "Modern-Day Journeyman." National pollster John Zogby calls it "Globals." I call it "Odyssey."

I spent two hours with Fabian in a colorful café right next to Görlitzer Park. Interesting guy. I wish some more bits of the conversation made it into the post, but alas, I had a word limit. Wie schade!

There is one thing that Fabian said that stuck with me. When I asked him about why he stopped traveling after two years, he said, "I didn't want to become like one of those lost travelers. I'd met a lot of them during that time."

That made me wonder whether my generation was lost. Or maybe, we are just trying to find ourselves again.

 

 

 

'Crossing Borders' With Fabian Sixtus Koerner At TEDxBerlin 6:08 pm Mon November 26, 2012

By Euna Lhee

The day after the TEDxBerlin talks, Fabian Sixtus Körner sits at The Nest, a Kreuzberg café that Körner frequents when he wants to write. He sips his cappuccino and also orders an Apfelschorle, something he missed during his years of travel. This and dark bread, he explains.

To me, Körner symbolizes the "Globals Generation," a term coined by national pollster John Zogby.

Zogby believes the new “American Dream” for 20 and 30- somethings is the accumulation of experience through living and working abroad.

But the concept also goes beyond America, or perhaps it isn’t new at all. In 14th century Germany, there was also the tradition of the journeyman. Tradesmen left their homes and traveled to faraway lands for three years and one day. During this time, they worked for board and lodging, instead of a salary, and then returned home as wiser master craftsmen.

And that’s exactly what Körner did for two years and three months; he worked as a designer, architect, and photographer around the world in places like China, Egypt, and Ethiopia in exchange for food and a couch. Calling himself the “modern day journeyman,” he tells stories of his clothing faux pas as the International Ambassador for Kuala Lumpur Design Week, of the time he protested against an obscure dancing ban in Bangalore, and of how he met his current girlfriend, who is now based in Zimbabwe.

These stories will all be a part of his new book, which is expected to be out in stores throughout Germany next year.

This is also consistent with the tradition, Körner says, as journeymen would have to account their most important experiences to their guild.

Volunteering for TEDxFulbright #2

Building upon yesterday's Welcome Meeting for Fulbrighters, I had a great time at the TEDxFulbright talks at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt today.

From 10 am to 4 pm, I heard from 12 presenters, which included two musical performers - all of whom were Fulbright alumni. Speakers included a freelance science journalist, judge, museum director, professors and artists in various disciplines. David Patrician, a former Fulbright Young Journalist, hosted and moderated the event.

This year's theme was "Significance and Singularity." I have no idea what that means, but here is what the website says :

"Exploring the concept of the richness of the single point of data; that a particular thought, act, or individual person has the capacity to initiate and propagate the work of progress that affects the entire world."

I prefer talks that are more personal and also express a clear point of view. I thought three speakers out of the 12 succeeded on this level. For me, these were the talks that stood out.

  • Professor of American Literature Hassan Mekouar of University Mohammed C, Rabat, gave his 15-minute talk in dramatic free verse, which outlined how edible trash and packaging could solve world hunger and overabundant trash. I thought his presentation style was refreshing, unique and clever.
  • Researcher Özgür Bolat of Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi talked about the happiness myth and how schools create unhappy children. Bolat argued how the need for approval negatively affects all behaviors and feelings in life. It was good fodder for a lively debate. If competition and grades adversely affect education and the well-being of children, what would be a better alternative in modern capitalistic societies?
  • International Criminal Court President Sang-Hyun Song spoke about his childhood experiences during the Korean War. He gave vivid accounts of the atrocities of war, describing the nauseating smell of hundreds of dead bodies on the street. "Today, that terrible smell has not left my memories," Song said.

I had a chance to mingle with Song and Mekouar, as well as with BroachReach founder Dr. John Sargent and freelance science journalist Dan Drollette, over pink champagne and sandwiches.

I also enjoyed the German Fulbright Alumni Association image video, whose world premiere concluded the day's program. Narrated by David Patrician, the 10-minute video takes the viewer through the founding and goals of the Fulbright Program, as well as the German Fulbright Alumni Association.

As a volunteer for the event, it seems that I will be writing a piece for tedxfulbright.org and also for the Fulbright Academy's quarterly newsletter. Stay tuned.

Reporting for NPR Berlin in Babylon

I had my first assignment with NPR Berlin today. I was watching US election results unfold at the old Babylon theater in Mitte. There were (drunk) people in Obama and Biden masks, German Glühwein and popcorn, and other panicked reporters trying to make sense of the scene. So here I was, nervously clutching my reporter's notepad, as I contemplated whether it would be appropriate to have a beer before I started talking to people.

I didn't see a single Republican sticker or t-shirt there. I guess that makes sense, since the party was sponsored by Democrats Abroad Berlin. Apparently, all the Republicans are in Hamburg - at least, that's what the lady at the booth said.

Another thing. A lot of people left around 2 am. For some reason, the theater had trouble streaming CNN, so people went to other bars. I also ended up leaving the party around 5 am for an adjacent bar called Belushi's. They had CNN. And hot dogs.

Without further ado, here's my first report!

Watching The U.S. Election From Berlin 5:21 pm Wed November 7, 2012

By Euna Lhee

“Watch the sunrise with US again."

This slogan filled posters last night at Babylon Theater's US presidential election viewing party.

Over 500 people showed up to watch the returns unfold live on the big screen. Crowds sought refuge from the weather in the movie theater. And Berliners – both Germans and expats alike – queued out the door for tickets to the late show.

Outside the theater, people sported Obama and Biden masks. Others wore T-shirts with American flags.

According to a recent Gallup International poll, Berliners are overwhelmingly Democrat; the poll revealed 97 percent of Germans support President Barack Obama. And it showed at the theater; tables sold Obama/Biden memorabilia, from buttons to luggage tags.

Among the sea of blue, not a single Republican t-shirt was in sight.

Moritz Ecker, who wore a Barack Obama t-shirt and an ushanka, said he’s been following the elections closely.

“It’s strange how the US determines world politics,” said Ecker, 30, a musician from Berlin. He plays guitar in a band and dreams of cycling from Europe to India.

“I’m interested in cycling in the Middle East, and if there is a Republican president, it is more likely that the region would be less secure,” Ecker said.

As the night progressed, loud cheers erupted every time news outlets projected Obama as the winner in a state. Live entertainment accompanied the commentary provided by the organization, Democrats Abroad Berlin.

By 5:00 am German time, only the hardcore political junkies were left.

“In the end, I expect Obama to win,” said John Roper, 33, a PhD candidate in history at the University of Pennsylvania. He considers himself to be a Berliner, now that he’s been living in the city for four years.

Acupuncture worth a shot for COPD?

People suffering from COPD may find some relief with acupuncture treatments, according to researchers from Kyoto University and Meiji University. The study was a small, preliminary clinical trial. And although the results seem promising, researchers need to overcome the single-blinded limitation before people start making any definite conclusions. The study is important, as there is no cure for COPD, but only therapies to relieve its symptoms or to prevent the condition from worsening. After reading this WebMD article, however, readers may come away with the feeling that acupuncture is the greatest thing since penicillin.

I was first reviewer for this HNR review.

The story fell short on many levels – most importantly, on breaking down the research and its significance for readers. This was a small clinical study with limitations.

Our Review Summary

The story includes several independent experts for comment, but the article fails to put the study into perspective. With language like, “Clearly… a viable alternative,” readers leave with the wrong impression regarding the significance of the research. The story would have done better to include facts, such as :

  • small, single-blinded clinical trial
  • study participants only followed for three months
  • some quantification of  study data (ie. How were improvements measured to merit the claims made by researchers?)

Why This Matters

Many patients with COPD, a condition often due to long-term use of cigarettes, have shortness of breath with activity resulting in impaired quality of life. Though there are a number of medications that have been available to treat COPD for years, patients often still have symptoms that affect their daily function. Thus, safe and effective new treatments for COPD would be welcome. For the reader of this article, that new treatment would appear to be acupuncture. But there is good reason to believe this is more based on hype and hope than reality and evidence. This is a small study from Japan and even if true, COPD is a heterogeneous disease, meaning that it is crucial to repeat in other settings and patients before declaring it effective. It is also important to know whether this helps a bit or a lot – it isn’t clear from reading this article. Just because acupuncture is safe and may work doesn’t mean it should be embraced. The experts quoted in this piece have lowered the bar with their supportive words. The article needs someone to say the obvious – this may offer hope but let’s wait for larger, more definitive studies. The net result is that the reader is misled. [HealthNewsReview.org]

You can see the full reviews on my site at Journalism -> Review and also at HealthNewsReview.org.

Giving Kids a Shot@Life

The United Nations Foundation kicked off its Shot@Life campaign at the Georgia Aquarium today to help raise awareness and funds for childhood immunizations in the developing world.

According to the UN Foundation, one child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease, such as measles, pneumonia, diarrhea and polio. That's because one in five children lack access to these basic childhood immunizations.

One of the panelists at the launch was former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who called upon the American people for their voice, time and support.

"We've come so far in eliminating deadly and disabling diseases with partnerships like ours and ‘Shot at Life,'" Carter said. "We'll be able to spread the word that vaccines can save lives, and in so, doing we can help eliminate preventable deaths."

Other panelists included UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin, UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC, and Australian photographer Anne Geddes.

Geddes commented that every child deserves "a shot at the tooth fairy." Carter said that she would like to see "a shot at ending mental health stigma."

I caught up with Ms. Carter after the launch, who talked to me for a few minutes regarding The Carter Center's mental health program and its efforts in Liberia. As she seems to be especially passionate about this subject, she encouraged me to look into her fellowship for mental health journalism.

"More meaningful reporting needs to be done on this important topic," Carter told me.

Global Vaccines Press Fellowship

I am in Atlanta, Georgia, as a part of the National Press Foundation's Global Vaccines Press Fellowship. I was joined by 9 other reporters from various news organizations to learn about vaccine-preventable diseases and global outbreaks. Tonight was mostly focused on polio eradication and measles initiative efforts. We heard from the Dr. Jacob Kumaresan from the World Health Organization and Dr. Rebecca Martin from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I am especially interested in the measles vaccine and its surrounding controversies, as I will be researching this issue in Berlin this fall.

Here are some newsworthy facts, according to Dr. Rebecca Martin and the CDC :

  • Measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable childhood mortality.
  • Measles resurgence in Europe : France saw 15,076 cases of measles in 2011, followed by Italy with 5,090 cases. Germany saw 1,480 cases. The 2011 grand total for measles cases in Europe = 32,154 cases.
  • Fifteen cases of measles were reported to the CDC following the 2012 Indianapolis Superbowl. These cases were all traced back to a single case in the stadium.
  • Investigating measles outbreaks can be expensive : Investigating 34 cases and over 500 exposures in a community setting cost $167,685. In a hospital setting, the numbers are higher - investigating 14 cases and 8,231 exposures cost $799,136.
  • Despite declaring "measles elimination" in 2002, the US saw an incidence of 222 cases in 2011 - over a 300 percent increase from 2010.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative set a goal to reduce global measles deaths by at least 95 percent by 2015, compared with 2000 levels. Millennium Development Goal 4 also aims to reduce under-five mortality rate by two-thirds  between 1999 and 2015.

Despite increasing measles incidence rates in many countries worldwide, are these attainable goals? Thoughts?

New Implant Procedure, No Side Effects?

For those suffering from inner-ear damage, a new device called Esteem is out on the market. A surgeon implants the prosthetic inner-ear stimulator during a three-hour outpatient procedure, with the patient under general anesthesia. According to the article, it seems that the implant procedure and device have no side effects.

I was first reviewer for this HNR review. The Chicago Tribune ran the story.

Not a good example of reporting on new technologies: one glowing patient anecdote – same profiled in a news release.  No data provided.

Our Review Summary

No discussion of costs, or of outcomes data (benefits or harms).  Only one positive patient anecdote with no explanation of whether her result was representative of what’s been seen in any other patients.  There was no independent perspective provided.

Why This Matters

The story illustrates the difficulty in reporting on a new device and new implant procedure that has not become a mainstream practice. Much scientific data may not yet have been published. If this were the case, the story could have explicitly stated so and alerted the reader on the lack of data currently available. [HealthNewsReview.org]

You can see the full reviews on my site at Journalism -> Review and also at HealthNewsReview.org.

Debate on Thyroid Checks During Pregnancy

A debate is brewing in the physician community : Should all pregnant women should be screened for thyroid function? And  should women with milder cases of hypothyroidism be diagnosed and treated? The problem is that there is little evidence regarding the effectiveness of treatment for milder cases. Scientists are unsure whether diagnoses and subsequent treatment sufficiently help pregnant patients or, instead, waste money on blood testing and thyroid medication.

I was first reviewer for a HNR review on a recent Quest Diagnostics study that looked at records and surveys from half a million pregnant women. The AP ran the story.

Overall, the story does an excellent job weighing the pros and cons of thyroid screening and treatment in pregnant women.

Our Review Summary

The article gives extensive context to the recent Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism study and refers to other research done in the field.

Why This Matters

The article effectively breaks down and explains a complex debate in the physician community – whether all pregnant women should be screened for thyroid function and whether women with milder cases of hypothyroidism should be diagnosed and treated. The story says this will “add pressure” for science to settle this issue, but that pressure already exists from endocrinologists and obstetricians – with, as the study shows, about 1 in 5 pregnant women being tested from 2005-8. [HealthNewsReview.org]

You can see the full reviews on my site at Journalism -> Review and also at HealthNewsReview.org.

Jacque Minnotte Health Reporting Fellowship

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) announced their fellowship winners this month. I found out I won the Jacque Minnotte Health Reporting Fellowship for my multimedia package on HIV vaccines. The prize recognizes excellence in health or medical television and radio reporting.

Here is the official press release, as well as the other award winners.

It looks like I will be at the RTDNA/SPJ 2012 conference in Fort Lauderdale. Anyone else also going?

Fish, Brain Health and Alzheimer’s

Apparently, eating fish may be good for brain health.

I was the second reviewer for two HNR reviews looking at a recent study presented Wednesday at the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago. Researchers looked at the correlation between 3-D MRIs and gray matter in the brain. Here are two competing reports from HealthDay and WebMD :

Another confusing story about an observational study that fails to explicitly state and explain to readers the limitations of observational studies. Please read our primer on this topic.  It would help prevent these mistakes.

Our Review Summary

Readers heads must be spinning worse than Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist” when they read – in one story – that this “must be viewed as an association, rather than a cause-and-effect” – yet they get cause-and-effect language such as:

  • “Raji said he was ‘amazed’ that this effect was seen”
  • “may boost brain health”…”lower the risk”…”helps to preserve gray matter neurons, strengthening them”…”cranial benefit”

Why This Matters

Over and over again, many news stories confuse readers about observational studies.  It leads to a loss of confidence in science and a loss of credibility in journalism.  That’s why this matters. [HealthNewsReview.org]

 

Slightly better story than the competing HealthDay story on the same study. Still weak on explaining the limitations of observational studies.

Our Review Summary

The story allows the researcher to say, “More fish, more brain, less Alzheimer’s.”   Pithy.  Quotable.  But simplistic and not proven by this study.

Why This Matters

At least the competing HealthDay story interviewed an independent source who wondered about other possible confounding factors in the research and stated, “For now, the connection must be viewed as an association, rather than a cause-and-effect.”

So even though the WebMD story scored better, the HealthDay story did slightly better on this critical piece of analysis. (The HealthDay story had its own flaws – for example, burying that “association” line instead of placing it high in the story and overwhelming it with cause-and-effect language throughout the story.) [HealthNewsReview.org]

You can see the full reviews on my site at Journalism -> Review and also at HealthNewsReview.org.

Health News Reviewing on HD

From now, you can find all my full-length health news reviews under my Journalism -> Review tab. I will post only my main comments on my home page.

I was again first reviewer for a HealthDay story on Huntington's disease, which covers a phase III drug study that was recently published in The Lancet Neurology.

  • The main problem in the story was its contradictory statements regarding the drug’s benefits. The article stated that a higher dose of pridopidine showed a “significant benefit,” but how significant? Later in the story, an independent source commented that the “benefit is modest.”
  • The story did not mention anything about the researchers’ inability to meet their primary endpoint. The apparent benefits of the drug were found in the tertiary endpoint – a sign that the magnitude of the drug’s effects may be smaller.
  • The article did not detail any research methods from the study. For example, how did researchers measure improvements in motor function?

Why This Matters:

The story highlights the difficulty in deciphering ambiguous medical evidence for the general public. On one hand, the researchers were not able to prove their main hypothesis. But they uncovered benefits in another endpoint that may prove to be promising. The article could have differentiated this evidence and provide a more cautious interpretation of the study’s findings, which could have made for a more thorough and more accurate story. [HealthNewsReview.org]

Alma Mater at The Standard Club

James B. Stewart, a business journalism professor at Columbia University, made some remarks at Chicago's The Standard Club tonight. His introduction alone took around five minutes. Stewart has done some amazing work and even won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism back in 1988. Besides talking about some hot topics in business journalism (ahem... Greece's future in the EU), he said, "Based on my students at Columbia, I can see that journalism is still alive and well." That's easier to say if you write a column for The New York Times. But the future of journalism is the topic of another conversation, much too long for this post.

Maybe I should go buy Stewart's book, Den of Thieves, and find out more about this Michael Milken character, since he is credited as the man who "changed medicine." Stewart may have mentioned his book once, or twice. In any case, it should be worthwhile to read about how medical research funding has changed in the past two decades.

Study of the Mozart Effect?

Another review for HealthNewsReview.org. Again, I was the first reviewer.  

Could Listening to Mozart Help Doctors Spot Colon Polyps? October 31, 2011

RATING:

Another story based on a talk at a recent conference AND based on a news release. Although the article acknowledges the study's limitations with the usual disclaimer (“conclusions should be viewed as preliminary"), the story still raises many red flags.

Our Review Summary

  • Small study?  How small?
  • Study based on two doctors' performance?  How were they selected?  How much experience did they have?  These are very important details not explained in the story.
  • The article fails to mention anything about the study's confounding factors, or to caution that "correlation does not imply causation" in such a small study. An independent expert could have commented on these issues. But the story provided no independent perspective.
  • This is a one-source story, with the same quotations from the lead investigator as the news release.

Why This Matters:

The story again highlights the difficulty in covering presentations from academic conferences, as such studies are not yet peer-reviewed and published in medical journals. Although the correlation between Mozart and detection rates is interesting, the article could have gone beyond the press release and looked at the study from a more critical angle, with a more thorough explanation of the so-called "Mozart Effect." Although the news release was a bit of a challenge to decipher, the story based on it did not clearly explain its meaning for the reader.

Criteria:

  1. Establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - NOT APPLICABLE There's no question about the ability of anyone to listen to any of kind of music while doing colonoscopies.
  2. Discuss costs?- NOT APPLICABLE
    There are no extensive costs associated with listening to Mozart's music.
  3. Avoid "disease-mongering"? - SATISFACTORY The story provided some brief information on invasive colorectal cancer, based on the information in the news release.
  4. Evaluate the quality of evidence?- NOT SATISFACTORY
    The article does state that "data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal." However, the story should have discussed the limitations of such a small study and clarified the researchers' methods and results. The story does not mention if other variables were accounted for, or if the correlation between Mozart and higher detection rates could have been due to other factors. The study only had two physicians in it and was not truly blinded.
  5. Quantify the potential harms? - NOT APPLICABLE No foreseeable harms or side effects in listening to music during procedures.
  6. Establish the true novelty of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - SATISFACTORY
    Many studies, both positive and negative, have been conducted on the so-called "Mozart Effect." And the story makes brief reference to past studies.
  7. Quantify the potential benefits? - NOT SATISFACTORY The absolute dfference in adenomas was not reported, only percentages.  We're told it was a small study.  How small?
  8. Appear to rely solely or largely on a news release? - NOT SATISFACTORY The story clearly was based on a press release by the American College of Gastroenterology. Similar language and the same quotations were used. There was not any evidence of original reporting.
  9. Use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest? - NOT SATISFACTORY There were no independent sources cited from outside the study. The only comment came from the lead researcher, Dr. Catherine Noelle O'Shea from the University of Texas Health Science Center.
  10. Compare the new approach with existing alternatives? - NOT SATISFACTORY Was music the only option for improving detection?  Experience of the physician is probably closely related to detection rate, as well as number of procedures done per year. Let's give Mozart his due, but let's analyze the evidence on other alternative explanations as well.

 

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory [HealthNewsReview.org]