The LA Times today published a news article, "Cosmetic surgery business sags as purse strings tighten," in which the writer, one Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, speculates on a slowdown in the sale of aesthetic surgery procedures in the United States in 2008.

But is it really slowing down?

The cutline reads, "A multibillion-dollar industry that is largely the province of the prosperous is suffering in today's economy, and that could have an appreciable economic impact."

A close inspection of the article, however, states that business is actually getting better, that there is good reason to be concerned about the current economy, but also that many physicians are intelligently diversifying product and service offerings with the economy in mind.

As the article begins:  

"It used to be a high point of Goldy Anthony's life. Every six weeks or so, as a kind of personal morale booster, she and a group of girlfriends would make appointments to see a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon for little touch-ups — getting lips plumped and frown lines on the forehead smoothed out. He was "an artist" with Botox and Juvederm, she said.

"Afterward, in a carefree mood, the ladies would dine at a popular restaurant on the Sunset Strip.

"No more. The sub-prime loan crisis, the housing slump and the general decline of the economy have claimed another covey of victims. Anthony is in the real estate business, and under current conditions, the cosmetic treatments — at $1,800 or more a pop — can no longer be squeezed into her budget. It's the same with others in the group."

I expected the story to offer some facts and figures to indicate how bad it shall get for Goldy and her lip-plumping buddies.

However, the writer throws in some hearsay quoted by a BevHills surgeon who is quoted as saying that his surgeries "were off by about 5% in January and February," and that he heard through the grapevine that some doctors are off by 30% to 40%.

In general, the article haphazardly skirts around facts and figures. 

Near the top of the story, we read, "After years of steady growth, the cosmetic surgery business seems to be going through a rough patch," which by the middle of the story becomes, "Doctors don't like to talk about it publicly, but plastic surgeons across the country said some colleagues are struggling to stay in business."

Finally, after providing enough data to suggest the industry is in perhaps only a slight slump — although business is up overall — the writer tosses in, "A leading manufacturer of breast implants recently reported that surgeries declined toward the end of last year." I wonder if any of these "facts" were confirmed prior to publication.

The Chicago Times ran the same story — well, almost the same. The final paragraphs are quite different from the ending of the LA Times piece.

In Chicago, readers were provided with an anecdote about a woman who could not afford a tummy tuck following gastric-bypass surgery. In Los Angeles, however, the conclusion of Mr. Alonso-Zaldivar's news story adds this tidbit:

"In Los Angeles, a world capital for plastic surgery, doctors are hoping that globalization will provide a cushion. Some are looking to European patients, who can capitalize on the weak dollar and combine their plastic surgery with a Hollywood vacation."

Is Alonso-Zaldivar's bearish view on 2008 aestetic surgery sales projections just an excuse to fan the flames over a creaky economy? Who are these doctors hoping for globalization? What are their names? It can't be Stuart A. Linder, MD FACS, who is quoted in the last paragraph of the LA Times version. If it were him, then the author would have written "doctor is hoping," not "doctors are hoping." 

It's easy to assess the value of such an irresponsible article.