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An article in Men’s Health by “Paul Ingraham”

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

The current issue of Men’s Health — for another couple weeks, so buy it soon — contains an article about how to get good massage therapy written by some poser with my name and my interests.

This Men’s Health contributor with my name seems like bit of a doofus, unfortunately. He’s not ‘orrible, but he definitely doesn’t have my expertise. Actually, he sounds suspiciously like a Men’s Health editor: the whole article is oversimplified, amped up, every idea crammed into a bullet-point or a “tip” as aggressively as possible. It’s exactly what I’d expect if, say, I actually did write an article for MH, and then their editors pretty much rewrote it before publication!

Yes, just like that.

Nevertheless, I have to say I’m less horrified and more impressed than expected. This “Paul Ingraham” guy shows some clear respect for science, even if it’s not exactly a thorough and nuanced discussion, like I would do. He found a great mutual friend/expert of ours to quote, Dr. Chris Moyer. There are even some clear “we just don’t know yet” statements about the biological effects of massage... and no glaring myths are perpetuated! Imagine.

So I’d call that a win. Good enough, “Paul Ingraham”! Whoever you are.

The challenge of writing with a skeptical tone for a magazine so focused on evidence-based tips

Getting this article into a mainstream magazine was a very interesting process, and a bit of a miracle. The editors were simultaneously keen on a skeptical, debunking tone — it’s what they asked for, and I have a lot of respect and appreciation for that choice — but also generally lacked the relevant knowledge or skills. Very nice, smart people, mind you! Just not musculoskeletal medicine wonks or card-carrying scientific skeptics. Not their stomping grounds. And so I got into some awkward discussions with them about what the article should contain and why.

For example: one of the toughest points of contention was that they wanted a citation to “support” my “claim” that massage does not reduce inflammation — a subject I only raised in my draft in the first place because “massage reduces inflammation” is a claim that has no meaningful support and only exists because of a single scientific paper that showed no such thing, but the researchers over-reached their findings and repeatedly made/implied the claim in their press releases and interviews. This was surprisingly hard to get across, because they seemed to be laser focused on making statements that could be supported with a citation … but debunking and scientific criticism usually doesn’t work that way. It’s mostly about calling out missing science, bad science, or over-hyped science. There just is no citation to support the statement “massage does not reduce inflammation,” and trying to explain that got exasperating. I was puzzled and bemused. Serious skeptical chops should not be required to grasp the idea of “burden of proof.” Journalism 101, I would think!

It may have been due to the extremely tight editorial focus on “service journalism” — on making useful, supportable statements. MH is basically “evidence-based health and life tips for dudes,” which is actually kind of awesome. It’s actually a much better magazine than I suspected. But it may not be a good fit for debunking.

Nevertheless, I’m mostly quite pleased with how non-horrible it is. Buy a copy, check it out!