I want to congratulate David Ropeik for his insightful story about the state of health care media coverage in America (“Fear factor,” CW, Health Care Extra 2004). As a freelance health care writer, I am appalled at the inflated, often false, information perpetuated by the media.

Recently, I wrote a story about a noise study issued by the Mayo Clinic that received quite a bit of press play. Stories in USA Today, Fox News, and other media outlets compared nighttime decibel levels in St. Mary’s Hospital (sister hospital to the Mayo Clinic) to a jackhammer, a comparison never drawn in the study itself. In fact, the study’s lead author told me in writing that the Environmental Protection Agency decibel levels cited as a benchmark in the study “are similar in noise level to the hum of a computer.”

While the study makes no comparison to jackhammers, the press release promoting it does. This throws water on the claim by reporters that they research their stories and don’t “rip and read” from the wire because, had they done their homework, they would have learned firsthand that no such loud noises existed. These sensational stories must be a PR person’s dream, because they can make any unsubstantiated claim they want and it will be reported as fact.

Sherree Geyer
Orland Park, IL

Other urban high schools that make the honor roll

Congrats on another great issue. As a Worcester county resident I am happy to see the story on University Park (“Worcester’s Wonder,” CW, Spring 2004). However, it is not the only non-selective public high school in the state that takes kids by lottery from an impoverished, largely minority urban neighborhood and produces results that are the envy of many a suburban high school. In Boston, I think the Media and Technology Charter High School fits in that category, as would Academy of the Pacific Rim and South Boston Harbor Academy. In addition, Abby Kelly Foster Regional Charter School and Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School also perform quite well serving impoverished neighborhoods.

Steve Adams
Pioneer Institute

Hire the disabled for public safety jobs?

The article “Rank Injustice” (CW, Spring, 2004) gave me a lot to think about, and it gave me a better understanding of Massachusetts’ culture. Thank you for publishing it.

I was surprised that persons with disabilities are given preferential status in the hiring process for public safety jobs. How disabled can a person be and still function as a police officer or fire fighter or corrections officer?

Emily Dibble

John O’Leary responds: It is likely that the preferences for disabled veterans were primarily intended for non-public safety positions. Though the disabled veteran preference still applies for police and fire jobs, prior to being hired every candidate must pass a physical abilities test, which assesses the candidate’s ability to perform demanding physical work.