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A paper in PLoS One, “Media Coverage of Medical Journals: Do the Best Articles Make the News?” answers a resounding “No.” Excerpt:

Media outlets must make choices when deciding which studies deserve public attention. We sought to examine if there exists a systematic bias favoring certain study design in the choice of articles covered in the press. Our results suggest such a bias; the media is more likely to cover observational studies and less likely to report (randomized clinical trials) RCTs than a reference of contemporary articles that appear in high impact journals. When the media does cover observational studies, it selects those with lower sample sizes than observational studies appearing in high impact journals.

While it may not be surprising that the media tends to select articles outside of the highest impact journals, in doing so, they preferentially choose articles lower in the hierarchy of research design, thus favoring studies of lesser scientific credibility. If anything, as top newspapers have their pick of all original articles, not just those selected by high impact general medical journals, newspapers could choose to cover the most credible studies, i.e. large, well-done RCTs. Instead, collectively they appear to make an alternative decision.

I’ve been writing about the problems with news coverage of observational studies for years, but this study puts the issue in a new light. The search results of what I’ve written on news about observational studies is too long to post.  But here are a few examples:

 

About the new article, Ivan Oransky wrote, “Medical News: Evidence Not a Factor” on MedPageToday.com.

 

And, once a BMJ embargo passes tomorrow, I’ll be writing about a new example of a journal news release giving a bad example of writing about observational studies.  Stay tuned.

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