Media sensationalises medical research stories: study

May 28th, 2008 - 4:12 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 28 (IANS) Most of the media coverage on medical research is marred by ignorance, sensationalism and a nexus among scientists, reporters and journals keen on hyping a study. The analysis, conducted by Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, found such reports failed to address costs, harms, benefits, the quality of evidence, and other treatment options.

The project monitored coverage by top 50 American dailies with the highest circulations and wire services. It included Associated Press; TIME, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report; and the ABC, CBS and NBC television network, among others.

Schwitzer reviewed the ratings for 500 US health news stories published or aired over two years, and found that 62 to 77 percent of them were flawed.

Schwitzer quotes the example of ABC World News, graded only two out of 10 for a TV report about a new test for prostate cancer, which the agency claimed was “more accurate” than existing tests.

ABC World News failed to discuss roiling controversies over risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening, failed to discuss any evidence of the new test’s superiority or failed to mention how the test’s principal investigator receives a share of royalties from its sales, Schwitzer said.

The poor and inadequate reporting, said Schwitzer, “raises important questions about the quality of the information US consumers receive from the news media on these health news topics.”

“Schwitzer’s alarming report card of the trouble with medical news stories is a wake-up call,” said the editors of PLOS Medicine, which published the analysis.

They stressed the need for “all of us involved in disseminating health research — researchers, academic institutions, editors, reporters — to work collaboratively to improve the standards of health reporting”.

Each news story was graded between 1 and 10, on the basis of a criteria like whether a story adequately quantifies the benefits of an intervention, appraises the supporting evidence, and the like.

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