BMJ article on exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases

With a team of collaborators from Cardiff University and the University of New South Wales (Australia), Dr Frederic Boy co-authored a research paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The objective of the research was 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.

What is already known on this subject?

The portrayal of health-related science in the national media has widespread potential to influence health-related behaviour, both in dramatic cases such as vaccine scares and through cumulative misunderstanding from everyday misreporting.It is not known to what extent misleading exaggerations originate in the news stories themselves (as commonly assumed), or in press releases  issued by academic institutions, which are a key source for science and health news stories.

What this study adds:

Up to 75% of exaggerations found in health-related science news were already present in the associated press releases. However, exaggeration was not found to be associated with increased news coverage.Thus press releases are a primary target for helping improve science news, with potential widespread benefit for public health.

Here is the link to the full text version of the article: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study. BMJ 2014; 349 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g7015, and here are links to articles in The Guardian, Wired, and Time about the research.