Newspaper coverage of biomedical research leans heavily toward reports of initial findings, which are frequently attenuated or refuted by later studies, leading to disproportionate media coverage of potentially misleading early results, according to a report published Sep. 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
The researchers, led by Francois Gonon of the University of Bordeaux, used ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) as a test case and identified 47 scientific research papers published during the 1990's on the topic that were covered by 347 newspaper articles. Of the top 10 articles covered by the media, they found that 7 were initial studies. All 7 were either refuted or strongly attenuated by later research, but these later studies received much less media attention than the earlier papers. The authors write that, if this phenomenon is generalizable to other health topics, it likely causes a great deal of distortion in health science communication.
Citation: Gonon F, Konsman J-P, Cohen D, Boraud T (2012) Why Most Biomedical Findings Echoed by Newspapers Turn Out to be False: The Case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044275
Financial Disclosure: This work was supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS UMR 5293 and UPR 3255), the University of Bordeaux and by grants from the Re┤gion Aquitaine, from the Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS (ISCC) and from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR VSNRAP). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: Dr. Thomas Boraud is a PLoS ONE Editorial Board member. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials. The authors have declared that no other competing interests exist.
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