A study published in BMJ 2014;349 reports that mass-media misrepresentations and inaccuracies concerning research findings are often the products of university communication offices’ self-promotion efforts, the result of increasing competition among high education institutions to claim points of pride.
According to this study’s abstract:
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. . . . 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. (http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g7015)
Researchers should pay careful attention to both inaccuracies and omissions in popular new reporting of their research. At the very least, a letter to the editor or a comment on the news web site is in order.
Simple boilerplate language follows:
I am writing in response to your article [title of news article here] by [journalist’s name here] that you published on [date of the news article here]. While I am grateful that you have brought my [and my colleagues’] research to a wider audience, I need to correct some inaccuracies [and omissions].
First, . . .
Second, . . .
Finally, . . .
Our research has promise but that potential is not yet fulfilled.
By responding to news reports of your research, you refine the public discussion and inform non-expert readers and journalists, “a key opportunity for reducing misleading health related news.”