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Ann Intern Med. 2009 May 5;150(9):613-8.

Press releases by academic medical centers: not so academic?

Author information

  • 1Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, Vermont 05009, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

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.

OBJECTIVE:

To characterize research press releases from academic medical centers.

DESIGN:

Content analysis.

SETTING:

Press releases from 10 medical centers at each extreme of U.S. News & World Report's rankings for medical research.

MEASUREMENTS:

Press release quality.

RESULTS:

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30 participants), surrogate primary outcomes, or unpublished data--yet 58% lacked the relevant cautions.

LIMITATION:

The effects of press release quality on media coverage were not directly assessed.

CONCLUSION:

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.

PRIMARY FUNDING SOURCE:

National Cancer Institute.

PMID:
19414840
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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