Steven Woloshin, MD, MS; Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, MS; Samuel L. Casella, MPH; Abigail T. Kennedy, BA; Robin J. Larson, MD, MPH
The news media are often criticized for exaggerated coverage of weak science. Press releases, a source of information for many journalists, might be a source of those exaggerations.
To characterize research press releases from academic medical centers.
Press releases from 10 medical centers at each extreme of U.S. News & World Report's rankings for medical research.
Press release quality.
Academic medical centers issued a mean of 49 press releases annually. Among 200 randomly selected releases analyzed in detail, 87 (44%) promoted animal or laboratory research, of which 64 (74%) explicitly claimed relevance to human health. Among 95 releases about primary human research, 22 (23%) omitted study size and 32 (34%) failed to quantify results. Among all 113 releases about human research, few (17%) promoted studies with the strongest designs (randomized trials or meta-analyses). Forty percent reported on the most limited human studiesâ€”those with uncontrolled interventions, small samples (<30 participants), surrogate primary outcomes, or unpublished dataâ€”yet 58% lacked the relevant cautions.
The effects of press release quality on media coverage were not directly assessed.
Press releases from academic medical centers often promote research that has uncertain relevance to human health and do not provide key facts or acknowledge important limitations.
National Cancer Institute.
News reports often exaggerate the importance of medical research.
The researchers reviewed press releases issued by academic medical centers. They found that many press releases overstated the importance of study findings while underemphasizing cautions that limited the findings' clinical relevance.
The researchers did not attempt to see how the press releases influenced actual news stories.
Academic center press releases often promote research with uncertain clinical relevance without emphasizing important cautions or limitations.
*Of the medical schools that issued at least 10 press releases in 2005.
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Woloshin S, Schwartz LM, Casella SL, Kennedy AT, Larson RJ. Press Releases by Academic Medical Centers: Not So Academic?. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150:613-618. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-150-9-200905050-00007
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(9):613-618.
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