A recent study conducted at universities in Bordeaux, France analyzed medical reporting by the media over a twenty year period and found that the media is flawed when it enthusiastically reports on sensational discoveries and fails to follow up on continuing research.
Biomedical findings slowly mature. Initial uncertain observations slowly turn into facts after validation by subsequent independent studies. In order to report on a biomedical issue appropriately, journalists should report on the entire body of scientific studies over time, not just the initial studies which have yet to be validated. However, due to the exiting nature of the initial observations, journalists tend to report on them immediately. However, much initial scientific observation is contradicted in time by subsequent studies, and the contradictory studies do not receive as much press coverage.
Furthermore, due to their exciting nature, initial observations are often published in the more prestigious scientific journals. The media generally tracks the more prestigious journals and reports on them, and generally does not follow the less popular journals. After the initial excitement wears off, the studies that seek to further research into the initial observations are often published in those less prestigious journals, and therefore the research contradicting the initial sensational discovery which was reported in the news is not disseminated as completely. This is a problem because the initial findings were observations, and the follow-up research is usually based on high-quality evidence.
So the media reports initial findings that are unconfirmed, and fails to report the high-quality evidence afterward that supports or contradicts the initial findings.
How to get closer to the truth when it comes to the media and biomedical reporting:
When you read a report from your favorite media source,remember this article! Get online and search for contradicting research or research that validates the report. Follow these three guidelines and you will get closer to the truth:
1. Don't jump on the bandwagon and believe initial scientific findings until they have been validated by independent subsequent studies. Remember, many initial findings are contradicted by further research!
2. Don't rely on the same sources of information. The more sources you have, the better.
3. Get information from sources with varying interests. Often in scientific articles, there is a section which discloses sources of funding and competing interests. It has been researched and proven that funding sources impact the results of the study, possibly subconsciously, possibly by un-ethical scientists. You can find scientific research on the same subject from different interests and compare and contrast the results from every source.
Citations; Gonon F, Konsman J-P, Cohen D, Boraud T (â¬2012â) Why Most Biomedical Findings Echoed by Newspapers Turn Out to be False: The Case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PloS ONEâ 7(9): e44275.Doi: 10.1271/journal.pone.0044275