Knowledge of the basic disease you are covering
Do you know:
- if it’s an infectious disease or not?
- if it’s caused by a pathogen (bacterium, virus, parasite or a fungus)
- what the difference is between these pathogens?
- how the disease is transmitted?
- if it can be prevented and if so how?
- if it can be treated and if so how?
- the differences and similarities between vaccines and drugs?
- how drugs work in the body?
- how vaccines work in the body?
- how vaccines and drug trials work
- how the body’s immune system responds to pathogens, drugs and vaccines?
- Have you identified the original source of the claim?
- Have you done a background check on him/her?
- If the original source is an individual, find out where he/she works and his/her credentials.
- Remember to ask who, why, what, when and where.
- Check what the source has told you with independent, reliable sources.
- Make sure you have more than one reliable source.
- Have you verified the information with online sources such as WHO, MSF, CDC etc
- Have you checked all numbers and calculations?
- Is what the source telling you based on rumor or on scientifically-based information?
- Does the source have an agenda, political or otherwise?
Writing the story
- Do thorough research before writing, blogging, broadcasting or televising.
- Use up-to-date studies and statistics to back up your story.
- Don’t use scientific jargon in your stories.
- Ask your source to explain difficult terms by giving examples.
- Mention current research on developing a vaccine/drug for the disease you are covering.
- Debunk rumours and misconceptions by giving evidence-based facts from reliable sources.
- Remember merely repeating the rumour or misconception in your story without verigying whether it is true or not, can cause harm to your readers/listeners/viewers.
- Read back technical information to your expert source to check you have understood it properly.
by Adele Baleta, independent science writer