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Is Alcoholics Anonymous the most effective way to treat addiction? Some science and health journalists said yes this week. Others journalists said no.
This puts readers in an awkward position: How do you make sense of it when good journalists writing for reputable publications appear to claim opposite truths, in both cases citing scientific evidence? A beautifully written story by Gabrielle Glaser in the April 2015 issue of The Atlantic declares “,” the 12-step program that has become synonymous with addiction recovery since its 1935 debut. She points out that AA is inherently difficult to study, given its anonymity, and so its results have never been proven scientifically. Much of our faith in the program is a legacy of a time when we knew less about the biology of drinking, and anecdotally, many struggling with alcoholism have found AA off-putting, particularly if their beliefs don’t ascribe to the “higher power” that is a backbone of the program. Given the ubiquity of 12-step rehab programs, they felt they had no other options. This is a problem, Glaser states, because it causes needless suffering.
She advocates for a serious look at different treatments to addiction that have shown tangible evidence of being effective. But on the same day that Glaser’s article was published online, New York Magazine printed a thoughtful piece by Jesse Singal on “.” The piece directly challenged The Atlantic’s, arguing that Glaser left out key information. Her article is weighted on the Cochrane Collaboration, a 2006 review of four decades of research that found that no studies “unequivocally” showed the effectiveness of AA or similar treatments. But, Singal writes, in the decade since the Cochrane report came out, new research suggests that AA actually is effective. He points to promising data on “12-step facilitation” (TSF) programs, designed as clinical interventions to guide people into AA. Data on them will be integrated in an update of the Cochrane report this year by its original lead author.
“In other words,” Singal writes, “the most comprehensive piece of research Glaser is using to support her argument will, once it takes into account the latest findings, likely reverse itself.” Glaser, for her part, says via email that TSF programs, which are based on one-on-one counseling, are notably different than AA and 12-step rehabilitation, so the evidence on them can’t be easily transferred. She also notes that her piece “doesn’t say AA and 12-step programs don’t work. It says there’s no conclusive data on how well they work.” The debate on 12-step programs is not new. But the articles by Glaser and Singal point to a larger challenge. One of the most frustrating things about reading (or ) science journalism is trying to resolve contradictory claims. Coffee is; no, it’s. Wearable technology, like the new Apple Watch, can; wait,.
Eating meat is; no,! Some people, like many of those who oppose vaccines, ease the tension by deciding that science is all relative—just a matter of. But of course, it is more than that. “When it’s at its best, science journalism works much like science,” said Wade Roush, acting director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Competing claims get tested and weighed against the available evidence. There’s often room for debate about what constitutes reliable evidence.”.