Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians sponsored by
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#273, February 10, 2006

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week

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My resume
Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

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My Writings
A bibliography of my published articles and columns, with links to those available online.

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Order My Books

Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, and The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. Corollary: Who Cares?
  3. The answer depends on the question
  4. Research is a multi-stage process
  5. Ask a Librarian
  6. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  7. Information can be true and still wrong
  8. Pay attention to the jokes

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Patrice McDermott
  23. Carrie Bickner
  24. Karen G. Schneider
  25. Roddy MacLeod, Part I
  26. Roddy MacLeod, Part II
  27. John Hubbard
  28. Micki McIntyre
  29. Péter Jacsó
  30. the "It's All Good" bloggers
  31. the "It's All Good" bloggers, part 2

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 750 and 1000 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Write me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
an occasional column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page


by Marylaine Block

I predict this is going to be a banner week for the sales of Big Macs and pizza.

I don't say this because an 8-year-long scientific study of 49,000 women between 50 and 79 released today found no significant difference in the incidence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, heart disease and stroke between the group that followed a low-fat diet and the group that did not.

I say this because of the way the scientific study was announced in the mainstream media. First, let's look at the most important part: the headlines -- the only part of the story many people will ever read:

  • The Washington Post, February 8, 2006:

  • CBS News HealthWatch, February 8, 2006:

  • UPI, February 8, 2006:

  • The New York Times, February 8, 2006:

  • The Boston Globe, February 8, 2006:

  • ABC News:
    DO LOW-FAT DIETS CURB DISEASE? A New Study Suggests Not, But Don't Break Out the Jumbo Cheesecake Just Yet.

What's wrong with those headlines? They're more sweeping than the study warrants. A specific set of diseases was monitored, not all of them, and for a specific subset of the population, not the entire population. Of all the headlines I looked at (thank you, Google News), the one that came the closest to an accurate summation of the study was in The Detroit Free Press: "A LOW-FAT DIET IS NO SHIELD FOR WOMEN: They Still Run Risk of Heart Disease, Cancers, Landmark Study Finds."

Now, the media do have a chance to redeem themselves in the body of the story. Let's see how well they do in their opening paragraphs:

  • The New York Times: "The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect." (Much more sweeping than what the study said.)

  • The Washington Post: "Low-fat diets do not protect women against heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer or colon cancer, a major study has found, contradicting what had once been promoted as one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle." (Close But No Cigar: More specific about both the population and diseases, but not about the women's age)

  • CBS News HealthWatch: "...after spending $415 million trying to get nearly 20,000 mostly overweight postmenopausal women to radically change their eating habits in hopes of reducing cancer and heart disease, researchers are acknowledging less than spectacular results." (CBNC: Accurately describes the population but not the specific diseases being assessed)

  • The Boston Globe: "A low-fat diet did not reduce older women's risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease, according to a long-awaited $415 million government-funded study that creates uncertainty about exactly what Americans should eat to prevent disease." (Cigar: By accurately describing both the study population and the diseases, it almost makes up for a sweeping, overstated headline)

However, the study itself < offered several important caveats, including the fact that "relatively few women met the dietary target of 20% of energy from fat" and "the differences in the consumption of vegetables and fruit and grains between the intervention and comparison groups were modest." The authors go on to project that if "design assumptions are revised to take into account these departures, projections are that breast cancer incidence in the intervention group would be 8% to 9% lower than in the comparison group..."

How did the news sources reflect those caveats, and how far down did one have to go to read them?

  • CBS News put this caveat in a prominent box beside the story: "The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says people shouldn't scrap low-fat eating after seeing the study results."

  • The Washington Post pointed out in the 6th paragraph that there is still "clear evidence from this and other studies that particular fats -- saturated fats from meat and trans fats from processed foods -- are unhealthful and should be avoided."

  • The New York Times quoted low-fat-diet crusader Dr. Dean Ornish in the 7th paragraph saying that "the women did not reduce their fat to low enough levels or eat enough fruits and vegetables, and that the study, even at eight years, did not give the diets enough time."

  • In the 4th paragraph, The Detroit Free Press quoted one of the doctors involved in the study: "The message is "a low-fat diet is not enough," Dr. Susan Hendrix, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Hutzel Women's Hospital, said during a news briefing. WSU and Hutzel are one of 40 sites participating in the landmark study. "This is not permission to go to your fast-food restaurant," Hendrix said.

  • The Boston Globe pointed out in the 6th paragraph that "other scientists and health advocacy groups rushed to say that Americans should not abandon low-fat diets. They said the women in the study may have started eating low-fat diets too late in life, that it could take longer for a low-fat diet to show benefits, or that steeper cuts in fat consumption than were achieved by the study participants may be necessary to reduce the risk of serious disease.

  • ABC News, as noted, had the caveat upfront in its cautionary subhead to the story. It also says in the 2nd paragraph that "Health researchers are not giving up on the low-fat message, however, and say the new study has too many shortcomings to provide a clear answer on the health benefits of eating less fat," and goes on to interview 50 researchers and print their objections that the study was too short, the amount of fat reduction in the diet too small, and made no distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats.

Why, you ask, do I dwell on this? Because the reporting is misleading for casual readers and skimmers -- who, in a world of multi-taskers desperately pressed for time, may well be the majority of readers.

What does that mean for librarians who train students in information literacy? That maybe we have to start farther back than we thought: not just teaching them to find information but to understand it once it's there in front of them -- starting, at a minimum, with reading the entire article, and proceeding on to reading the study itself.

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God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please - you can never have both.

Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Intellect."

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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2006.

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