Science and Medical Journalism
of Media and Journalism
MEJO 560, (cross listed as HBEH 660 & HPM 550), Fall 2016
2:30 p.m. - 3:45 p.m., Halls of Fame Room (Carroll Hall)
Tom Linden, M.D.
328 Carroll Hall
|Wednesday, 1:15 - 2:15 p.m. or whenever office door is open|
|linden at unc dot edu|
Course Description & Goals
The purpose of this course is to teach an appreciation of science and medical journalism and provide you with skills to report on science, medical, and environmental news for a variety of media, principally print or text, but also video and audio.
As a participant in this course, you'll learn the following:
How to find news value in scientific research reports.
How to integrate scientific statistics from source materials into news reports.
How to research, report and write science, medical and environmental news stories for popular media.
Readings for the course include a text about medical
statistics, a classic book on writing well, a compendium of
great writing about health and medicine from the New York
Times, an anthology of the best science and nature writing
published in 2015, a primer about science writing from masters
in the field, a book about we learn from the New York Times
neuroscience and psychology reporter, and a memoir about race
and medicine. Please complete the reading assignments before
the appropriate classroom discussions. In addition to the list
below, I'll supply additional source materials and articles from
various publications. Most of the following books are available
at the UNC student store and copies of all the books will be on
reserve in the Park Library (second floor) in the School of
Media & Journalism. Please note that the books on reserve in
the Park Library may be earlier editions that can be substituted
for current editions. Students should also consult the AP Stylebook for
proper style and usage for all written assignments.
1) Blum, Deborah, Mary Knudson & Robin Marantz Henig,
Field Guide for Science Writers (Second Edition),
Oxford University Press (paperback), © 2005, $19.95, ISBN:
2) Carey, Benedict, "How We Learn," Random House (paperback edition), © 2014, 254 pp., $16.00, ISBN: 978-0-8129-8429-3.
3) Cohn, Victor and Lewis Cope with Deborah Cohn Runkle. News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Wiley-Blackwell (paperback), Third Edition, © 2012, 181 pp., ISBN: 978-1-4051-6096-4.4) Linden, Tom & the Writers of The New York Times. The New York Times Reader: Health & Medicine, © 2011, $24.95, 292 pp., ISBN: 978-1604264821.
7) Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (30th Anniversary Edition), Collins, © 2006, 336 pp., ISBN: 978-0-06-089154-1.
Also, starting with the class for Wednesday, September 21, students should begin reading the print version of the Tuesday Science Times section of the New York Times. On the assigned dates, please bring the Science Times section to class. Consult the course schedule below for the exact dates for which the section should be read. Please note that the online version of the New York Times is not an acceptable substitute since the online and print versions do not necessarily have the same content. The New York Times is available in the UNC Student Store and is also available at a reduced rate by subscription. To subscribe, you can call 1-800-NYTIMES and ask for college subscriptions. Receiving the print edition by subscription also gives you unlimited online access.
A working science journalist typically talks and discusses
relevant issues with colleagues and others before preparing his
or her report. This class will be no different. I'll
expect you to share your thoughts with your peers and with me.
Classroom discussion will help clarify your ideas and sharpen
your focus. You'll also be posting all written assignments on Sakai where your classmates
will critique your work before you submit it to Dr. Linden for a
Each student will be responsible for two 15- to 20-minute presentations on assigned reading. Dr. Linden will assign the presentations at the beginning of the second class meeting. As critical thinking and discussion with peers are integral to the work of journalists, classroom participation and your two presentations will count for 20 percent of your final grade. Your classroom participation grade will be based on the quality (not necessarily the quantity) of your discussion and will be based on the following criteria:
1) Whether it's clear that you've read and thought about the
2) Your ability to integrate ideas gleaned from the readings
into the larger context of science and medical reporting.
To sharpen your writing skills, you'll write
two original stories and revisions of each of those two stories.
The four writing assignments will count for 80 percent
of your final grade. Each story's grade will be determined as
follows (with 100 points possible for each assignment):
1) A maximum of 40 possible points for reporting. Key
considerations in grading reporting include the following:
a) Did you interview a variety of sources,
each of whom was knowledgeable about the focus of your story
and/or able to present a unique scientific or human interest
b) Did you consult primary sources (like journal articles or government publications, e.g.)?
c) Did you address relevant criteria for solid reporting as noted by the media critique website, Health News Review?
2) A maximum of 40 possible points for writing. Consideration
will be given to the following:
a) Did you write clearly?
b) Was your writing tight?
c) Did you follow the writing guidelines enumerated by William Zinsser in his book, "On Writing Well."? If not, can you justify why?
d) Does your story flow well?
e) Did you stick to your six-word message (as discussed in class)?
f) Did you follow rules in the AP Stylebook?
3) A maximum of 20 possible points will be given for the
a) Is this story publishable with only minor
Grading Scale (for undergraduates)
98 - 100 A+
94 - 97 A
91 - 93 A-
88 - 90 B+
84 - 87 B
81 - 83 B-
78 - 80 C+
74 - 77 C
71 - 73 C-
68 - 70 D+
64 - 67 D
61 - 63 D-
60 and below F
Grading Scale (for graduate students)
93 - 100 Honors
74 - 92 Pass
61 - 73 Low Pass
60 and below F
After one unexcused absence, each absence will result in a drop of one letter grade in the course. This is a upper division/graduate-level seminar, and your presence and contribution are essential. You cannot pass the course with more than two unexcused absences.
To succeed in science and medical journalism, you must write well. Good writing requires an understanding of the material and the ability to communicate ideas simply and clearly.
All assignments must be posted on the Sakai discussion site at
least two days before they're due in class. Late
assignments will not be accepted without prior
permission. Even with prior permission, submission of late
assignments will result in a 10-point deduction per day. Not
turning in an assignment within two days of the due date will
result in a zero grade. Misspelling of proper names will
result in a 10-point deduction per misspelling.
Misspelling of other words will result in a two-point deduction
for each word misspelled. We'll follow the print style
guidelines of the AP
Stylebook. If you intend to pursue journalism as a career,
I strongly encourage you to purchase a copy of the AP Stylebook.
As per the usual practice in the School of Media &
Journalism, a major factual error will result in a failing grade
for that particular assignment. Fabricating sources or
quotations or engaging in plagiarism will constitute a violation
of the Honor Code (for more information about the UNC Honor
Code, go to http://instrument.unc.edu).
For the physician profile assignment (assignment #1), you must
complete the UNC Medical Center's shadowing requirements as
outlined below at least 24 hours BEFORE you shadow your
Please review the above site carefully after your first class
as some of the requirements and forms may take up to a week to
complete. Please consult Dr. Linden if you have questions.
There will be no midterm or final exam.How To Succeed in This Course
Attend classes consistently.
Complete readings before the appropriate classroom discussions.
Participate actively in class discussions.
Ask the Professor questions either during class or during office hours if you're unclear about any aspect of the course.
Turn in stories on time, both on Sakai and in class.
Check online syllabus frequently
throughout the semester (preferably before each class) as
assignments and topics may change without e-mail notice.
AUG. 24: INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE AND MEDICAL JOURNALISM
* Turn in Student Data Sheet that was emailed to you.
Reading for this class session:
Linden, Thomas, "Learning To Be a Medical Journalist," Nieman Reports, Vol. 57, No. 2, Summer 2003, pp.66-67.
Linden, Tom, "The New York Times Reader: Health & Medicine," foreword, preface and introduction.
Silverman, Ed, "Senators
press Mylan Labs over 'outrageous' EpiPen pricing," STAT,
August 22, 2016.
WEEK 2:Aug. 29: A GUIDE TO WRITING NONFICTION (Lily)
* Learn the basics of writing nonfiction.
Zinsser, William, On Writing Well, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7.
Review UNC Medical Center's shadowing
requirements as outlined earlier in the syllabus.
Aug. 31: A GUIDE TO WRITING NONFICTION (cont.) & ETHICS OF
SCIENCE AND MEDICAL JOURNALISM (Josh)
"Aiding Those in Distress," Association of Health Care Journalists, http://www.healthjournalism.org/secondarypage-details.php?id=898.Holtz, Andrew, "Update: Conflict of interest/funding disclosure missing from half of news releases we've reviewed -- a case study on why that's important," Health News Review, August 18, 2016.
Scanlan, Chip, "The
First Peril: Fabrication," Poynteronline, (Adapted from Reporting
and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century, Oxford
University Press, 2000). Updated March 2, 2011.
SPJ Code of Ethics: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp?
Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists: http://healthjournalism.org/secondarypage-details.php?id=56
"Understanding HIPAA: A Brief
Overview," Association of Health Care Journalists, http://healthjournalism.org/resources-tips-details.php?id=12#.Vcomq0W2gso
Zietman, Anthony L., "Falsification,
Fabrication, and Plagiarism: The Unholy Trinity of Scientific
Writing," International Journal of Radiation Oncology,
Vol. 87, No. 2, 1 October 2013, pp. 225-227.
Zinsser, William, On Writing
Well, Chapters 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
SEPT. 5: Labor Day (no class)
SEPT. 7: INTERPRETATION OF MEDICAL STATISTICS (Ginger)
Cohn & Cope, News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Part I, Learning the Basics, pp. 1-68.
Leaf, Clifton, "Do Clinical Trials Work?" New York Times, July 13, 2013.
Browse the web sites of the World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and the National Institutes of Health's clinicaltrials.gov.
SEPT. 12: INTERPRETATION OF MEDICAL STATISTICS (cont.)
Cohn & Cope, News & Numbers: A Writer's Guide to Statistics, Part II, pp. 70-169.
de Lorgeril, Michel et al., "Cholesterol Lowering, Cardiovascular Diseases and the Rosuvastatin-JUPITER Controversy," Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(12):1032-1036 (June 28, 2010). (posted in Sakai -> Resources)
Kolata, Gina, online at "Forty
Years' War -- Advances Elusive in the Drive to Cure Cancer,"
also in New York Times Reader, pp. 156-162.
Laatikainen, Reijo, "Randomized
trials are no panacea for what ails nutrition research,"
Health News Review, Aug. 26, 2015.
SEPT. 14: REPORTING FROM THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT - Judith E.
Tintinalli, MD, MS, Professor, Dept. of Emergency Medicine,
UNC-CH, and science and medical journalism Program Adjunct
Please meet at 2:30 p.m. in the conference room above the
Starbucks Cafe, located adjacent to the lobby of the UNC
Cancer Hospital. Please allow 15 minutes to walk from the UNC
Quad to the UNC Cancer Hospital.
Rosenberg, Naomi, "How
to Tell a Mother Her Child Is Dead," New York Times, Sept.
Assignment #1: 900-word profile from the UNC Emergency
Department due Wednesday, Oct 5. Please upload the draft of your
story to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #1 by Monday, Oct.
3, at 6 p.m.
Blum et al.,
editors. A Field Guide for Science Writers, Chapters
1, 2, 4, 5, 6.
the Zika virus and local outbreaks: Journalism guides and
tips," Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public
Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, updated Aug. 24, 2016.
face unique conflict-of-interest dilemmas," Association
of Health Care Journalists," Aug. 10, 2015.
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapter 1, pp. 7-24.
Oransky, Ivan, "If you must use embargoes, here's how to do it right," download pdf file from Epidemiology Biostatistics and Public Health, 2013, Vol. 10, No. 3.SEPT. 21: NEWS STORIES (cont.) (Lily)
"Science Times" section from Tuesday, Sept. 20, New York Times.Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapters 2 & 3.
SEPT. 26: NO CLASS
Linden, New York Times Reader,"A
Conversation with Benedict Carey," pp. 99-101 & 152-154.
SEPT. 28: PROFILES &
EXPLANATORY STORIES (Jessica)
Broke My Father's Heart," New York Times, June 18,
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapter 5, pp. 92-98, Chapter 6, pp. 105-110, Chapter 7, pp. 132-136, 138-143.
Please upload the draft version of your
profile/issues story to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #1
DRAFT by Monday, Oct. 3, at 6 p.m. Please start to critique
your classmates' stories on Sakai as soon as they appear on
OCT. 3: PROFILES & EXPLANATORY STORIES, Skype interview with author and New York Times reporter Benedict Carey
Reading:Carey, Benedict, How We Learn, pp. 3-171.
Please upload the final version of your news story to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #1 FINAL by Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 2:30 p.m.
OCT. 5: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #1
Assignment #1 due today.
Barish, David, "God,
Darwin and My College Biology Class," New York Times,
Sept. 27, 2014.
Collins, Gail, "The
Fight for Unplanned Parenthood," New York Times, Sept.
Oransky, Ivan, "Covering Medical Studies; How Not to Get It
Wrong," PowerPoint presentation downloadable from Sakai.
Kakutani, Michiko, "Oliver
Sacks, Casting Light on the Interconnectedness of Life,"
New York Times, Aug. 30, 2015.
Thomas, Lewis, The Medusa and the Snail, chapters entitled "The Medusa and the Snail," "The Wonderful Mistake," "Ponds," "To Err Is Human" and "On Cloning A Human Being" (all chapters found in electronic link in Resources folder in Sakai).
OCT. 17: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #2
Assignment #2 (rewrite of
Assignment #1) due today.
OCT. 19: HISTORICAL STORIES (Rachel)
"Science Times" section from
Tuesday, Oct. 18, New York Times.
Altman, Larry, "For
3 Nobel Winners, a Molecular Mystery Solved," New York
Times, Oct. 7, 2013.
Linden, New York Times Reader, Chapter 9, pp. 183-197.
McNeil Jr., Donald G., "In
Reaction to Zika Outbreak, Echoes of Polio," New York
Times, Aug. 29, 2016.
Snyder, Timothy, "The
Next Genocide," New York Times, Sept. 12, 2015.
OCT. 24: PERSPECTIVE STORIES (Anna)
Blum, Deborah & Mary Knudson, editors. A Field Guide for Science Writers, Ch. 17 (pp. 111-117), Ch. 20 (pp. 132-137).
Best Possible Day," New York Times, Oct. 5, 2014 (a
follow-up to the Katy Butler piece read earlier this
Dying Young Woman's Hope in Cryonics and a Future," New
York Times, Sept. 12, 2015.
York Times Reader, Chapter 8, pp. 156-182.
OCT. 26: ESSAYS (cont.) -- Guest speaker, Stephanie Brown, Director, Park Library, 2:30-3:00 p.m.
OCT. 31: NO CLASS
NOV. 2: COVERING HEALTH NEWS -- REPORTING ON HEALTH NEWS, guest speaker: Rose Hoban, publisher of North Carolina Health News
Please browse the North Carolina
Health News web site.
North Carolina Health News, "DENR
Request Exemptions for Smaller-Scale Air Polluters,"
Sept. 25, 2015.
North Carolina Health News, "Budget writers rely on questionable method for Medicaid budgeting," August 18, 2014.
North Carolina Health News, "Complicated
Hospital Accounting Adds to Medicaid Uncertainty," July
North Carolina Health News, "Medicaid Managed Care Outcomes Vary Across Country," July 22, 2014.
Assignment #3: Essay due Wednesday, Nov. 9. Please upload the draft of your essay to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #3 DRAFT by 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 7.
NOV. 7: SCIENCE WRITING FOR MAGAZINES (Mikaela)
NOV. 9: CRITIQUE OF ASSIGNMENT #3
Assignment #3 due today.
NOV. 14: REPORTING FOR THE ELECTRONIC MEDIAReading:
Linden, Tom, "Medical Reporting for
the Electronic Media," in Barbara Gastel's Health Writer's
Handbook (Second Edition), chapter in Sakai's
NOV. 21: RACE AND MEDICINE, guest speaker Dr. Damon Tweedy,
author of Black Man in a
Reading:Tweedy, Damon, Black Man in a White Coat, pp. 1-183.
with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," National Public Radio, Sept.,
NOV. 23 - No Class (Happy Thanksgiving)
NOV. 28: RADIO REPORTING, guest lecturer, Adam
Hochberg, NPR correspondent
Listen to "My Lobotomy," "Mastodons in Manhattan," and "An Ill Newborn, A Loving Family And A Litany Of Wrenching Choices."
Assignment #4: Rewrite of Assignment #3 due Wednesday, Nov. 30. Please upload the draft of your story to Sakai -> Forums -> Assignment #4 DRAFT by Monday, Nov. 28, at 6 p.m.
NOV. 30: SCIENCE WRITING FOR MAGAZINES (cont.)
DEC. 5: SCIENCE WRITING FOR MAGAZINES (cont.) (Lauren)
DEC. 7: SCIENCE WRITING ON THE WEB, guest speaker via Skype, Alasdair Wilkins, science editor, vocativ.com & CLASS WRAP-UP
The Honor CodeI expect that each student will conduct himself or herself within the guidelines of the University honor system (http://honor.unc.edu). All academic work should be done with the high levels of honesty and integrity that this University demands. You are expected to produce your own work in this class. If you have any questions about your responsibility or your instructorís responsibility as a faculty member under the Honor Code, please see the course instructor or Senior Associate Dean Charlie Tuggle, or you may speak with a representative of the Student Attorney Office or the Office of the Dean of Students.
Professional Values and Competencies
Among the many skills students will learn in this
course, it's expected they will be able to fulfill the following
values and competencies as enumerated by the Association for
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication:
If you require special accommodations to attend or participate
in this course, please let the instructor know as soon as
possible. If you need information about disabilities visit the
Accessibility Services website at https://accessibility.unc.edu/
--syllabus revised Dec. 3, 2016