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Spin cycle
Pressures in all stages of the news-making process can lead to hype in science reporting.

17 December 2014

A study that has been heavily discussed over the past week or so focuses on the bottom step in the news chain described above: the information that universities give to reporters about published research (P. Sumner et al. Br. Med. J. 349, g7015; 2014). The details appear on page 291 of this issue, but can be summarized as follows: exaggeration in press reports of published medical-research papers is also present in press releases sent out by universities to promote those papers.

To conflate, briefly, correlation and causation (which the study counts as exaggeration), it seems that blame for media hype of medical research can be placed as firmly at the door of university press offices as on the headline-hungry keyboards of journalists.


on information
5 [singular, uncountable] (informal) a way of presenting information or a situation in a particular way, especially one that makes you or your ideas seem good
Politicians put their own spin on the economic situation.


Study points to press releases as sources of hype
Scientists, press officers and journalists online are pointing fingers in light of a paper that traces the origins of exaggerated claims in health news.
Chris Woolston
12 December 2014

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), examined 462 press releases produced by the leading 20 UK research institutions in 2011. Overall, 40% of those releases contained health advice that was more explicit than anything found in the actual article. One-third emphasized possible cause and effects when the paper merely reported correlations. And 36% of releases about studies of cells or animals over-inflated the relevance to humans.

Those exaggerations seemed to spread to the media. The study found that when news releases took liberties with the science, 58% of the resulting news stories overstated health advice; 81% highlighted cause and effects and 86% overplayed human relevance. By comparison, when news reports were based on straightforward, unembellished press releases, only 10–18% ended up stretching the truth. The authors conclude that “improving the accuracy of academic press releases could represent a key opportunity for reducing misleading health related news”.

メディアは出されたプレスリリースを検証せずにそのまま記事にしてしまう傾向があるようで、“Many reporters don’t get beyond the news release. And many more don’t get beyond the abstract. That’s simply not good enough.”と書かれています。