A paper by a French team in PLoS Medicine, “Misrepresentation of Randomized Controlled Trials in Press Releases and News Coverage: A Cohort Study,” shows once again “the tendency for press releases and the associated media coverage of randomized clinical trials to place emphasis on the beneficial effects of experimental treatments.” More from the paper:
“This tendency is probably related to the presence of spin in conclusions of the scientific article’s abstract. This tendency, in conjunction with other well-known biases such as publication bias, selective reporting of outcomes, and lack of external validity, may be responsible for an important gap between the public perception of the beneficial effect and the real effect of the treatment studied.
…previous work showed that exaggerated and inappropriate coverage of research findings in the news media is linked to inappropriate reporting of press releases. Our study adds to these results showing that spin in press releases and the news is related to the presence of spin in the published article, namely the abstract conclusions. Additionally, our work highlights that this inappropriate reporting could bias readers’ interpretation of research results.
Consequently, reviewers and editors of published articles have an important role to play in the dissemination of research findings and should be particularly aware of the need to ensure that the conclusions reported are an appropriate reflection of the trial findings and do not overinterpret or misinterpret the results.”
The work of HealthNewsReview.org for the past 6.5 years has shown a clear pattern of stories that emphasize benefits and minimize or ignore potential harms. It is our wish and hope that, in the future, we will be able to launch a parallel project to review and evaluate the content of news releases to broaden our analysis of the messages about health care interventions that flood the American public every day.