Institutions Blamed for Exaggerated Research Claims

Exaggerated health reports often traced back to press releases issued by universities

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Exaggerated news reports about health research often can be traced back to press releases issued by universities, a new British study suggests. Improving the accuracy of these news releases could greatly reduce the amount of misleading health news, according to research published Dec. 10 in The BMJ.

Petroc Sumner, Ph.D., of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed 462 news releases on health-related research issued by 20 leading universities in the United Kingdom in 2011 and compared them to the studies they described and to 668 pieces of national news coverage about the studies.

The researchers found that, compared to the actual studies, 40 percent of the releases contained exaggerated advice, one-third contained exaggerated causal claims, and 36 percent contained exaggerated inferences about how animal research applied to people. If press releases exaggerated the research, it was more likely that news coverage would do the same -- 58 percent for advice, 81 percent for causal claims, and 86 percent for inference to humans. When press releases did not exaggerate, rates of exaggeration in news coverage were 17, 18, and 10 percent, respectively.

The blame "lies mainly with the increasing culture of university competition and self-promotion, interacting with the increasing pressures on journalists to do more with less time," the authors write.

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