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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.

Author information

1
Centro di Riferimento AIDS e Servizio di Epidemiologia delle Malattie Infettive, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico L. Spallanzani, Rome, Italy.

Abstract

CONTEXT:

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.

OBJECTIVE:

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.

DESIGN:

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.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

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

RESULTS:

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.

CONCLUSIONS:

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.

PMID:
9676687
DOI:
10.1001/jama.280.3.292
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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