Steven Woloshin, MD, MS; Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, MS; Samuel L. Casella, MPH; Abigail T. Kennedy, BA; Robin J. Larson, MD, MPH
Note: Drs. Woloshin and Schwartz contributed equally to the creation of this manuscript. The order of their names is arbitrary.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the U.S. government.
Acknowledgment: The authors thank Renda Wiener, MD, MPH, for helpful comments on an earlier draft; the members of the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group for their ongoing helpful feedback during all phases of the project; Deborah Kimbell, Andrew Nordhoff, and Jane D'Antonio for their feedback on the media relations interview script; and Jennifer Snide, MPH, and Katie Van Veen, BA, for technical assistance.
Grant Support: By the National Cancer Institute (grant R01 CA104721). Drs. Woloshin and Schwartz were also supported by Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Faculty Scholars Awards.
Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest:Honoraria: S. Woloshin (National Institutes of Health, for “Medicine in the Media”), L.M. Schwartz (National Institutes of Health, for “Medicine in the Media”).
Reproducible Research Statement:Study protocol: Available from Dr. Schwartz (e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org). Statistical code and data set: Not available.
Requests for Single Reprints: Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, MS, Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group (111B), Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, VT 05009; e-mail, email@example.com.
Current Author Addresses: Drs. Woloshin, Schwartz, and Larson: Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group (111B), Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, VT 05009.
Ms. Kennedy: Dartmouth Medical School, 1 Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756.
Mr. Casella: Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Center for Education, 30 Lafayette Street, Lebanon, NH 03766.
Author Contributions: Conception and design: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz, S.L. Casella.
Analysis and interpretation of the data: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz, S.L. Casella, R.J. Larson.
Drafting of the article: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz, S.L. Casella.
Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz, A.T. Kennedy.
Final approval of the article: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz, A.T. Kennedy, R.J. Larson.
Statistical expertise: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz.
Obtaining of funding: S. Woloshin, L.M. Schwartz.
Administrative, technical, or logistic support: L.M. Schwartz.
Collection and assembly of data: S. Woloshin, S.L. Casella, A.T. Kennedy, R.J. Larson.
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 studies—those with uncontrolled interventions, small samples (<30 participants), surrogate primary outcomes, or unpublished data—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.
Appendix Table. Highest- and Lower-Ranked Medical Schools (and Their Affiliated Press Offices) for Research That Issued at Least 10 Press Releases in 2005
Study flow diagram.
*Of the medical schools that issued at least 10 press releases in 2005.
Table 1. Press Release Process and Press Releases Issued by the 20 Academic Medical Centers
Table 2. Type of Research Promoted in and Quality of the 200 Press Releases Analyzed in Detail
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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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