Jay Thaker and hyperlinks in news articles (May 15, 2007)

It is surprisingly difficult to find a direct link to Jay Thaker's iPod study, or indeed any hard evidence that it exists at all. I started this page intending to find the link and share it. After about ten minutes of Googling, I am giving up on finding the link, and instead going to whine about the quality of news reporting on the web.

The study claims that iPods interfere with pace makers. Thaker, a high school student, worked with professional medical researchers to perform a study on 83 people. This is a very interesting topic, and one I would like to read more about the details. Here are some key, easy questions that lept to my mind, questions that the original paper could answer quickly:

  1. What kind of pace makers did he study? Pace markers are not government issue and completely identical.
  2. Did he test pace makers standing alone, to try and find a mechanism for what he observed?
  3. How do the observed anomalies compare against the pace makers' normal inaccuracies? Saying that x% have anomalous behavior is extremely interesting, but I want to know more about what the anomalies are.
  4. Did he verify, or at least argue, that the interference was not affecting the diagnostic machines? I expect they ruled this out, but would like to be reassured.

The study writeup itself does not come up on Google. More disturbing, though, is that the news articles I read neither link to the article, nor present an excuse for not doing so. Hyperlinked media is about linking. If anyone knows a good news outlet that is good about this, I would like to know.

Also disturbing is the lack of fact checking going on. I did not run into a single article that linked even to the conference where the paper was presented. I wonder if they even bothered to check, because in fact the conference web page does not list Thaker as a presenter! When they say that Thaker "presented" the article at the conference, they must mean that he had a poster, or that he walked around and chatted with the researchers. If he gave a formal presentation, it is not listed on the schedule.

A good news outlet on the web ought to at least link to the materials they are talking about. If they discuss a study, link to it. If they discuss a bill before Congress, link to the bill. If they discuss a novel, link to the Amazon page for the novel. It is hard to find even this level of support from news outlets.

A really good news outlet could go further, and dig up relevant expert material. They could offer more than the pithy one-line quote that on-paper newspapers give you, and link to an entire expert testimony. For example, I would really like to know whether the experts in this area think the level of interference Thaker found is a surprise.

Kudos to Jay for a really cool study. I am left wishing, though, to find a news outlet that is willing to have external hyperlinks. Please email me if you have any pointers.

Lex Spoon