Click-bait “science” news: binge-watching-TV analysis

The NBC website posted a story, “Binge-watching TV helps some people beat the blues.” Not only did the headline make this claim, but the second sentence did, too:  “…it may also be a way for some people who feel depressed or lonely to beat the blues.”


Our managing editor, Kevin Lomangino, and I couldn’t find anything in the story mentioning any evidence of “helping people beat the blues.”

There’s an anecdote of a woman who describes herself as “a natural worrier” and TV “relaxes me.”  But that’s not depression.

There’s another anecdote of another woman who watches certain shows “when sad.”  But that’s not depression.

For all we know, binge-watching TV might leave most of these people feeling even worse than they felt before. The study doesn’t seem to have addressed the issue. Or at least we can’t tell from what’s been reported about it.

And there’s no good way to judge the quality of the “science” or the study because it’s not published.  It’s going to be presented at a communication conference in May.

A Google search turns up a ton of stories, all apparently based on this news release.  If you drill down into the stories, you’ll see that most use the same reference to the TV show House of Cards as the news release did.

And this is how the sausage of “science news” is often made.

We offer a primer for journalists – and the public – to understand some of the caveats about information in talks presented at meetings.  But this example is even more troublesome:  the talk won’t even be given for 4 more months!  And already the news has gone viral.


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Comments (1)

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Susan Molchan, MD

January 30, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Always suspicious–I can’t help wondering if Binge-Watching Disorder could be next in line now that Binge-Eating Disorder has secured its place in DSM. The two will probably be found to be co-morbid.
Or maybe this whole “study” thing is a way to get people’s attention for next season’s House of Cards in a few weeks, and a not so subtle suggestion that it will be time to binge.
Disclosure: I once watched 3 episodes of Breaking Bad, back-to-back.