1. News reporting on scientific studies is often exaggerated and implies greater causality and inference than the research actually finds.
2. There was a direct link between over exaggeration in press releases coming from the research institutions and news reporting inflation.
Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)
Study Rundown: The relationship between published research and the media is one mediated through press releases and news articles. There is often miscommunication of the actual research findings with exaggeration of the results’ implications. This study aimed to elucidate the level at which this disconnect occurs and how findings are misrepresented in the media. It was found that press releases of research conducted at the 2011 Russell Group Universities, the top 20 research universities in the UK, in fact overstated causation, correlation, and/or impact about 40% of the time. News stories based on exaggerated press releases were about six times more likely to have exaggerated claims. Interestingly, exaggerated press releases did not relate to increased news uptake, placing a large portion of the sensationalism blame on the press releases themselves.
While this study has its limitations, it presents much opportunity for growth and improvement. It is of importance that the medical profession recognize that it may itself be perpetuating a culture of exaggeration. While, as this study found, caveats and justifications are rarely reported in press releases, their presence did not affect new coverage and uptake.
In-Depth [retrospective analysis]: This study, an analysis of research and the subsequent reporting of findings in the media, was conducted using 462 press releases and 668 news stories of research published at the 20 2011 Russell Group University in the UK. The authors analyzed the relationship between the actual findings in the research and news reporting and looked to see if there were mention of caveats and justifications. It was found that 40% (CI95% bootstrapped 33%-46%) of press releases were exaggerated in the form of overstated correlation/causation, inflated translatability of non-human studies to humans, and direct advice being inferred from the research. The odds ratio for news being exaggerated was 6.5 fold (CI95% 3.5-12.4) higher when the press release was exaggerated. Approximately 47% of non-human study news stories contained inflated inferences for human application. There was no significant association between exaggeration of press releases and news uptake.
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