Pop quiz: what’s wrong with these headlines?

News from just the past week has featured a number of questionable headlines. See if you can spot what’s wrong about them. 

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From the article at Medscape by Neil Osterwiel–direct quotes–see if the beginning matches what is said at the end:

  • Noninvasive prenatal testing is so good at ruling out certain fetal abnormalities that rates of more invasive procedures have plummeted.
  • “It can’t be diagnostic for the fetus. We’re not really assaying the fetal nucleic acids; we’re assaying a mix of placenta and mother,” [Bianchi] said.
See this post for more on that last comment. The report also shares that “there has been a 79% decline in the use of amniocentesis and a 69% decline in the use of chorionic villus sampling.” Something predicted two years ago by this post (which further explains how these plummeting rates will make diagnostic tests more risky).
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Again, what is wrong about the headline based on what is reported in the article:

Dr Sheila Macphail, consultant in Obstetrics and Fetal Medicine at the RVI, said: “A small amount of DNA from the unborn baby always circulates in the mother’s blood stream.

“The new technology allows this small amount to be identified and amplified permitting greater diagnostic accuracy. Any results which indicate a high risk would then require a further diagnostic test.

“We still advise expectant mothers to have their usual ultrasound scans and testing for Down’s Syndrome as part of their routine NHS care.”

Bonus points if you can explain what’s wrong in that last line (and doing so will answer the problem with the next headline):
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From the report by David Wagner for KPBS:
Eunice Lee got more than she signed up for when she took a noninvasive prenatal test made by San Diego-based Sequenom.The Santa Barbara anesthesiologist was 40 years old at the time, and her doctor recommended she take Sequenom’s MaterniT21 test to screen her unborn baby for Down syndrome and other chromosomal problems. Such tests have become routine for pregnant women Lee’s age. Using only a maternal blood sample, they can spot chromosomal abnormalities in a fetus.

If you got the first two right, then this is just a repeat. But you may also want to consider how “Down syndrome” is referred to and whether that deserves comment.
And, finally, news made by a Catholic Bishop, where the headline says it all:
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Feel free to leave your answers in the comments below. The comment that stands out will receive one of the limited links for downloading the full version of my recent article published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics.


  1. I’ll skip the quiz thanks, it’s all old hat. But they all have two things in common. The statements are all from people who are in a position of power to influence others, and they all have a negative bias against the worth of those with Down syndrome. Ethics and acknowledging human dignity don’t come into it.

  2. Victoria Miller says:

    Ugh! From beginning to end.

  3. BE Informed says:

    Devastating for parents these days terminating such a high number of unborn children both with and without DS. Termination is NOT A TREATMENT.

    These headlines serve to further NORMALIZE what has historically been an ugly, horrific secret of DS diagnosis. our owns DS community HELPS hide by omitting facts about the emotional devastation and FACTS about termination completely from several DS org brochures!

    Thus in Reality these orgs become by default seemingly PROPONENTS of termination imho especially as the diagnostic testing companies are willing to distribute this less reality based brochure with their results and not the fully debated and compromised brochure put together by these same orgs, the medical community and parents as distributed by http://www.downsyndromepregnancy.org through woodbine.

    The bishop MUST be fired immediately on grounds his philosophy differs so far from the Catholic teachings it’s irreconcilable.

    I agree the rest–it’s MATERNAL and accentuated fetal only and often false negative and MISSES many diagnoses. It’s not diagnosing squat.


  1. […] a news story I featured in a previous post was this interesting statistic and […]

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