A Great Story Beats The Truth

It’s probably not the tennis helping people live longer, it’s the socioeconomic class people who play tennis belong to. Source: The Best Sport for a Longer Life? Try Tennis

The article below is one in a series at that site about the degradation of journalism (which they term “churnalism”):

Exercise Churnalism Part 1, Sensible Medicine, 30 August 2022

They’re using this story in the New York Times as an example: The Best Sport for a Longer Life? Try Tennis. The great story, the one that news articles seize upon, which is probably not true, but who cares, it will garner clicks, is that: playing tennis makes you live years longer than doing other forms of exercise.

The truth:

The researchers tried to account for socioeconomic factors, but it remains possible, he says, that people who have sufficient money and leisure time to play tennis live longer because they have sufficient money and leisure time, not because they play tennis.

The NYTs journalists didn’t play up that socioeconomic part. It won’t get clicks. But it’s more likely the truth.

A great story beats the truth:

Human beings are great at dreaming up stories. If you believe a finding is credible, there is no shortage of rationalizations that you can make up. Medical school is especially good at training aspiring doctors to think this way, to explain any finding based on known human physiology. It is the inductive reasoning we all learned about in middle school science. But remember, these explanations are just stories. Real science treats these stories as hypotheses and then tests them. Our problem, and the problem propagated by churnalism, is that researchers often accept a plausible story as the truth.

The benefit of playing tennis over swimming, or of swimming over jogging, or of jogging over going to the gym doesn’t matter as much as the benefit of doing *something* over doing *nothing*. (No one will write about that because no one will click it.) An analogy I like … your chances of winning the lottery are improved by orders of magnitude when you buy one ticket; buying two or ten or a thousand tickets hardly changes that calculus.

A great story beats the truth. It’s all around us. You can’t get away from them anymore. Great false stories.

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