The Media and Anti-Aging Medicine: Witch-Hunt, Uncritical Reporting or Fourth Estate? [Book Review]

Medicine Studies 1 (3):229-247 (2009)
In this paper, which brings together aging research and media research, we will contribute to the mapping of the complicated cartography of anti-aging by analyzing the press coverage of anti-aging medicine. The mass media decisively shape societal impacts of the expert scientific discourse on anti-aging. While sensitivity towards the heterogeneity of the field of anti-aging is increasing to some degree in the social-gerontological discussion, the role of the media in transmitting the various anti-aging messages to the general public has so far not been systematically scrutinized. Current opinions on the press coverage of anti-aging medicine range from proponents’ complaints of a media witch-hunt against them to opponents’ reproaches about uncritical reporting of this complex topic. This paper discusses whether the media act accordingly to the ideal of the fourth estate, controlling the increased power of science in the 20th century. Our areas of investigation are two Western countries: the USA and Germany. Both countries have experienced an apparent increase in the average age of their populations, which has led to increasingly vigorous public debate since the late 20th century. The subjects of our study are three organizations that represent different approaches to anti-aging medicine: the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the German Society of Anti-Aging Medicine, and the Methuselah Foundation. The article discusses the programs, goals, and media strategies of these organizations and compares them with the anti-aging messages that actually make their way to the reader in the media “interdiscourse.” The article asks whether transatlantic learning processes within the anti-aging medicine movement as well as in the media can be identified. The paper’s methods and sources are those of contemporary history and ethnography. The three approaches to anti-aging medicine are drawn from publications of spokespersons from the three presented anti-aging medicine organizations and from participant observation of anti-aging medicine conferences in Germany and Europe during the period from 2005 to 2008. The media analysis is based on the study of about 300 articles that appeared between 1990 and 2009 in US and German dailies and weeklies such as Newsweek, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and Die Welt. Our analysis shows that, against the backdrop of pessimistic demographic apprehensions, the leitmotiv of both nations’ medical journalism between 1990 and 2009 was overwhelmingly pro anti-aging medicine. It is criticized that medical journalism on anti-aging medicine refrains from own investigations on potential risks. Scrutinizing activities of the media in terms of a fourth estate require stimulation from science itself. Hence, we argue for sensitization of medical journalism regarding ageism
Keywords Anti-aging medicine  Mass media  Press coverage  American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine  Methuselah Foundation  German Society of Anti-Aging Medicine  Transatlantic learning processes
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DOI 10.1007/s12376-009-0028-2
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