I came across a dramatic title on CNN Health four days ago: "Any use of marijuana linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke, study says." The leading paragraph makes an incorrect assertion: "Smoking, vaping or eating marijuana is linked to a significantly higher risk of heart attack and stroke, even if a person had no existing heart conditions and did not smoke or vape tobacco, a new study found."

This is wrong. If you go to the actual study in JAMA, it considers only smoked and vaped marijuana. Ms. Sandee LaMotte should do better. As of the writing of this post, the uncorrected article has been on the CNN website for four days, despite objections in its comments section. I wonder if the mistake was intentional. The extremity of the title makes it provocative and good clickbait. I have been viscerally suspicious of emotionally charged news and science reporting for years. Recently, I stumbled across a term for the practice, "Russell conjugation," the subtle use of language in otherwise factual verbiage to induce an emotional reaction in the audience. In its entry on Propaganda, Wikipedia uses a different term: "Loaded Language."

I had a colleague who would contentedly binge on pork rinds at work, believing the snack was healthy for her. She was an outspoken zealot for the keto diet, based on Nina Teicholz's 2014 book "The Big Fat Surprise." When I asked if the book was based on peer-reviewed research, I was astounded to find she didn't know what I was talking about. I understand that the typical high school graduate is unfamiliar with peer review. But she graduated from a small liberal arts college with a degree in women's studies. Instead, she retorted that the book was on the New York Times Best Seller list, seemingly unaware that the Best Seller list is a popularity ranking, not an assessment of reliability.

Source checking, sensitivity to manipulative language, and understanding the importance of peer review in identifying reliable, authoritative sources of information. Is peer review perfect? A similar question often gets asked: is completely objective news possible? Of course not. But I have argued elsewhere that just because complete objectivity is impossible doesn't lead to the conclusion that it should be abandoned as a goal. But the alternative inevitably leads to the dark worlds of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. It is a place that has much of America in its thrall, where you can read or make up anything that makes you feel good and adopt it as belief.