HealthDay publishes two examples of news-release-journalism in one day

And it may happen on many other days as well – with them – or with others.  But these two got our goat.

1.  New MRI MIght Help Spot Heart Disease Early:  Study

It’s entirely based on a news release from the journal Radiology.  There is no independent analysis of claims such as this:

“The findings suggest that this technique could be used to screen people at risk for coronary artery disease.”

Really?  After a report on testing in just “26 people with at least one risk factor for coronary artery disease and 12 healthy people” ? Before making that kind of leap, maybe one should consider just what would be involved with such screening – in whom, at what cost, with what sensitivity/specificity, leading to what rate of false positives/false negatives, and at what cost, etc.?

And lest you think this is a one shot deal that maybe nobody saw – no harm, no foul – look at how widely this story was picked up.

2.  There was also broad distribution of HealthDay’s “Marijuana extract may help ease muscle stiffness in MS: Study.”  Maybe other news organizations reacted to marijuana in the headline. Maybe they reacted to the gravity of MS.  Maybe they simply reacted to stuff to throw up on their website from a news service.  Or, more likely, there was no reaction by humans at all but, rather, automated feed-grabbing to fill space. But, as with the MRI story above, the story was based entirely on a journal news release.  No independent expert perspective was provided to dwell on claims made in the story, such as:

“The findings suggest that the marijuana extract could be a useful treatment for muscle problems in MS patients and could provide effective pain relief, especially for those in considerable pain.”


Without any independent critical analysis, with no evidence provided that any work went into this story beyond reading and regurgitating a news release, how much trust should readers put into this kind of journalism? MS is not a topic that should be treated lightly or given short shrift by news-release-journalism.

Caveat lector.

I wish that those who wrote news releases for medical journals would at least list our 10 story review criteria at the end of their news releases to remind journalists – and consumers who may simply receive a rewritten news release disguised as an independently-vetted news story – that there are certain things that perhaps should be considered prior to publication and distribution.


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