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A happy face on antidepressants?


5 Star

A happy face on antidepressants?

Our Review Summary

This news article does a solid job of explaining the findings of a complex study.

The New England Journal of Medicine report compares the findings of published studies of antidepressants to the whole research record on the drugs, which includes unpublished studies. Since most of the unpublished studies had negative outcomes, the findings suggest that doctors and patients are often making treatment decisions based on unjustified positive impressions of the drugs’ effectiveness. 

A reporter may be tempted to center the news article on the findings about antidepressants’ effectiveness (which some other news articles on this study did).

But this news story explores the consequences of incomplete reporting of clinical trial results generally. This helps the study shed light on a larger issue–the potential impact of selective publication on clinical practice.   

Overall – a nice job of reporting on a highly technical study. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The article does not report the costs of the antidepressant medications, which range from very inexpensive in generic forms to expensive branded drugs. However, the story is really about medical journal publication bias and so it is understandable that the story didn’t discuss the drugs’ costs. 

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The news article does a sufficient job of citing facts–including number and percentage of studies showing positive results in published research compared to those showing positive results in all research conducted–to support the basic findings. 

It would have been useful to provide data that shows the magnitude of the publication bias in clinical outcome findings–for instance the number of patients improved with treatment in the published studies vs. the number improved in unpublished studies.   

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The article addresses two types of potential harm implied by the findings:

  • that clinical trials may have been unknowingly duplicated, causing study participants to be exposed to unnecessary risks and the public to unnecessary costs
  • that doctors and patients may expect the drugs studied to be more effective than the entire body of research demonstrates, leading to false hope and inappropriate treatment

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The article is based on a published report appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study itself was a careful analysis of the content and conclusions of published and unpublished studies, including clinical trials. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

There is no discussion of prevalence/impact of depression, so this criterion is not applicable in this case.   

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The article does a good job of citing a wide variety of sources, and a high number for a news article of this length (seven).

Sources include the lead author; a specialist with a major medical school; another academic observer; and spokesmen for two drug companies, the pharmaceutical industry and the regulatory agency involved, the FDA.

The variety and number of sources used helps create useful context for this complex story.  

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article does not explore specific alternatives to the drugs studied. Alternatives such as psychotherapy were not discussed and should have at least been mentioned.


Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The antidepressant drugs that are the subject of the studies are widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Since the story discusses 74 trials on 12 different drugs, it’s clear that these drugs are not new.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


There is no evidence the news report draws heavily on the press release.

Total Score: 7 of 8 Satisfactory


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