Monday, 2 March 2015

Media Hype, but the Universities play their part in bad Reporting

Sumner P, Vivian-Griffiths S, Boivin J, Williams A, Venetis CA, Davies A, Ogden J, Whelan L, Hughes B, Dalton B, Boy F, Chambers CD. The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study. BMJ. 2014;349:g7015. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7015



OBJECTIVE: To identify the source (press releases or news) of distortions, exaggerations, or changes to the main conclusions drawn from research that could potentially influence a reader's health related behaviour.
DESIGN: Retrospective quantitative content analysis.
SETTING: Journal articles, press releases, and related news, with accompanying simulations.
SAMPLE: Press releases (n = 462) on biomedical and health related science issued by 20 leading UK universities in 2011, alongside their associated peer reviewed research papers and news stories (n = 668).
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Advice to readers to change behaviour, causal statements drawn from correlational research, and inference to humans from animal research that went beyond those in the associated peer reviewed papers.
RESULTS: 40% (95% confidence interval 33% to 46%) of the press releases contained exaggerated advice, 33% (26% to 40%) contained exaggerated causal claims, and 36% (28% to 46%) contained exaggerated inference to humans from animal research. When press releases contained such exaggeration, 58% (95% confidence interval 48% to 68%), 81% (70% to 93%), and 86% (77% to 95%) of news stories, respectively, contained similar exaggeration, compared with exaggeration rates of 17% (10% to 24%), 18% (9% to 27%), and 10% (0% to 19%) in news when the press releases were not exaggerated. Odds ratios for each category of analysis were 6.5 (95% confidence interval 3.5 to 12), 20 (7.6 to 51), and 56 (15 to 211). At the same time, there was little evidence that exaggeration in press releases increased the uptake of news.
CONCLUSIONS: Exaggeration in news is strongly associated with exaggeration in press releases. Improving the accuracy of academic press releases could represent a key opportunity for reducing misleading health related news
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I had never blogged until I got a call from a Lady from Holland asking to be on the trial. What trial I asked? The trial on stem cells from aborted foetuses. I said I was not doing any tirals in humans and definitely was not using aborted foetuses and was using adult mouse cells. Next it was the London evening Standard the BBC, The Time, Mail, etc, etc, etc

After the story of the miraculous cure was reported over the weekend following blood-borne immune stem cells.  It is worth taking a look at the claims of the press and it can be seen from this open source report that there is a lot of poor reporting. This can be due to poor press releases from the media/PR departments of universities or companies. So had the Neuro not said "Miraculous" or the PR department not put these words in the mouth of the neuro maybe we would not be hearing about the Lararus effects 
and you would not be getting false hopes. Immune cell replacement offers great promise, but hyping by the press does not help us as scientists because it creates unrealistic expectations.

6 comments:

  1. In wonder why the results of this study don't surprise me. Anything to create a headline that sells papers, magazines, or generates mouse clicks on a website..................

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    Replies
    1. Medic desperate to get his name in the papers for what is an unblinded study. Shoddy behaviour by all concerned.

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  2. I was writing about this article last week as it makes me wonder how most patients should be expected to know which articles to take seriously. Sadly, even those of us who know better and look at methodology for article claims are still far more likely to remember the headlines than the methodology which generates them. If there are enough headlines, people tend to believe they represent a truth. If nothing else, I think headlines or claims that express things patients wish to be true are incredibly hard for us to fact check/reality check. We are blind to our ignorance.

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  3. It's not just you, MD. Our well-meaning families and friends are forever sending us this week's cure. What a disappointment I must be to them as I turn my nose up at cure after cure. In their minds, it must seem as if I don't WANT to get better.

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    1. Join the club Bennie, I bet they send you the press cuttings too. Best bit of advice Prof Mcdonald gave me, don't believe the newspapers or the TV. I still don't know how 2 litres of a well known soft drink a day ever got published, or do I?

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  4. I worked in a PR office last year and it amazed me that only once did a journalist (BBC) ask for more details about statistics they were told during a story 'sell in' - even this case i dont think they were really questioning the evidence, they just wanted to know more. Since this job I don't trust any statistics I read in the papers.

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