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JAMA. 1998 Jul 15;280(3):292-4.

Peer-reviewed articles and public health: the mad cow affair in Italian newspapers.

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Centro di Riferimento AIDS e Servizio di Epidemiologia delle Malattie Infettive, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico L. Spallanzani, Rome, Italy.



It has been suggested that early announcements of research works to be published in peer-reviewed journals may diminish newsworthiness of scientific articles, but this issue has not been widely studied.


To analyze the impact on the news media, in terms of volume and prominence of coverage, of a scientific article published in peer-reviewed journals about issues with relevance to public health compared with the impact of preliminary release of information on the same issue.


Analysis of press coverage of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in the 7 newspapers with the widest circulation in Italy, between March 20, 1996, when the British secretary of state for health announced the identification of 10 cases of a new-variant CJD, described April 6, 1996, in The Lancet, and May 10, 1996. Related newspaper articles were identified by hand search.


Numbers of newspaper articles published before and after publication of the Lancet article.


We collected 535 articles, of which 62 (11.6%) appeared on the front page. The number of articles published daily peaked on March 26 with 48 items and 1 article on the front page of all the newspapers. A total of 386 (72%) of the 535 articles and 56 (88.7%) of the 62 published on the front page were published in the first 2 weeks of the study period, before the Lancet publication.


Our analysis suggests that, in the case of issues of public health importance, when peer-reviewed research is published after a health risk is disclosed to the public, its impact in the media is small. Coordination between news release by public health authorities and publication by peer-reviewed journals may improve the quality of public information.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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