Lose 20 Pounds! New Superfood Discovered by Scientists!

by do not feed the troll on April 2, 2015 - 2:24pm

Just like rumors of a hookup between two students travel a high school at the speed of light, news coverage on shocking scientific discoveries can get global coverage in a matter of hours. The omnipresence of science in the media is found in the wide array of documentaries seen on television, but also as news coverage on emergency health reports on emerging diseases. Moreover, the name of science is often relied upon as an authoritative figure putting a moral seal of approval on health products. Consumers looking for a shortcut to lose body fat or gain muscle will be more likely to buy a product that has been tested using scientific methods. However, companies distort scientific evidence in order to market their health products more successfully to the general public. Similarly, scientific reports in the media often sensationalize, especially when it comes to emergency health reports, to get the attention of the public. Therefore, it is correct to state that reports in the media often use the name of science for credibility. Likewise, a moral dilemma ensues from the misrepresentation of scientific evidence in the media. Is it moral to use terms such as “scientists approve”, “research has shown” as means to sell an idea? Does scientific truth get distorted in the media? Controversial forms of science in the media include news reports on scientific topics and the advertising of health products.

While mass media is the most effective source of health information to the general public, it is important to question the amount of news coverage on different health topics. A research from the US National Library of Medicine has found that for health reports on emerging risks, the intensity of news coverage is actually inversely proportional to the amount of deaths attributes to said risk. Thus, it is more likely to see a huge wave of breaking news reports on an previously unknown disease, lethal or not, than to see a report on physical inactivity, which kills one million Americans annually (NCBI). From a deontological point of view, this is immoral, because the intent of broadcasting companies would not to inform the public of the most significant health risks, but rather issues that would create more public curiosity. From a teleological point of view, this is also immoral, because since only the issues less relevant to the general public are the ones with the most media exposure, less people will be exposed to information on obesity and chronic diseases (NCBI). More people would suffer from these health issues from the lack of information than the amount of victims claimed by diseases most mentioned in mainstream media.

Furthermore, not only is the severity of health risks accentuated in media as a means to sensationalism, but the advertising of health products is deceiving to the public. An example of this would be the medical talk show Dr. Oz. In fact, a research conducted by a group of skeptical Canadian pharmacists, physicians has analyzed 40 random episodes of the show airing in 2013 to investigate the different recommendations on the show (Kaplan). The results concluded that only 11% of the claims were backed up by confirmed medical evidence. Similarly, the show was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for selling coffee bean extract to lose weight because the advertising of the product’s health benefits were unfounded and questionable (Kaplan). When questioned about his controversial recommendations in front of senators, Oz replied that he was trying to give hope to his audience, averaging 2.3 million viewers every show (Kaplan). However, from a deontological point of view, this is still immoral, as people trust his credentials as a successful cardiac surgeon, but his ideas are deceitful and deception is not a universal maxim. Additionally, his intentions of giving hope could also be questionable. Therefore, according to Kant’s theory, Dr. Oz does not have good intent, as his motives remain unclear. His position on television is an instance of science being misrepresented on television for the interests of fame or profit. From a teleological point of view, this is also immoral due to his success on television. While consumers could be informed with more legitimate materials, medical talk shows mimic the techniques of native advertising and reach a larger audience, but these shows seem nothing more than one hour long infomercials (Kaplan). Thus, a deontological solution to this ethical dilemma revolving around honesty as a universal maxim would be to revoke Dr. Oz’s medical degrees, as many of his statements made on television go completely against medical science and his current self would not pass the exams necessary to obtain those degrees. Another solution would be to put a disclaimer before every product advertised and/or before the show, in a similar fashion to disclaimers used during commercials for medicine. This deontological approach would also require the government to strictly regulate information on an extremely important subject: public health. Thus, from a teleological point of view, a greater number of people could access better information and a decrease in health problems could ensue

"Misrepresentation of health risks by mass media". M Brezis. US National Library of Medecine. NCBI, June 30 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.


"Real-World Doctors Fact-Check Dr. Oz, and the Results Aren't pretty" . Kaplan, Karen. LA Times. Dec. 19 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.