NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Finds Press Jumps The Gun When Covering Medical Research

June 5, 2002

Reporters are rushing into print medical stories that don't yet deserve the public's attention -- and in some cases never will. That's the conclusion of a study being published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors of the study characterized the premature coverage as "too much, too soon."

The authors analyzed newspaper coverage of five major medical conferences during 1998.

  • They found that 252 stories were written in major newspapers about 147 research abstracts, or statistical summaries -- and that 25 percent of those studies were never published in peer-reviewed medical journals, while another 25 percent were published in what were called "low-impact" medical journals.
  • The authors concluded this amounted to excessive coverage of research unworthy of being published in major, peer-reviewed scientific journals.
  • The reports appear before the validity of the research has been established, and many have "weak designs, are small or are based on animal or laboratory research," the study's authors warned.
  • They added that "results are frequently presented to the public as scientifically sound evidence rather than as preliminary findings with still uncertain validity."

Source: Thomas M. Burton, "Study Finds Press Is Premature in Reporting on Medical Research," Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2002.


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