Headline vs. Study: How the Popular Press Distorts the State of the Science

newspaperEver taken a closer look at an attention-grabbing headline in the Times or on NPR and wondered, huh? Then, upon checking out the original article, you discover a study riddled with errors and biases? Check out this recent post over at ASN for a discussion of recent findings by Selvaraj  et al on how news outlets systematically cover studies of weaker methodological design.

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2 Responses to Headline vs. Study: How the Popular Press Distorts the State of the Science

  1. Mark Laing says:

    Wish I had found the Selvaraj et al. reference when I wrote my first blog “the public perception of science”. Excellent stuff though, it confirmed my suspicions!

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for the comment! You made a good point on your post as well: the topics that are most likely to be covered are the ones that are more likely to be attention-grabbers. What I wonder though, is why observational studies would be more likely to be attention-grabbers (in nutrition, anyway) than highly controlled RCTs. The only thing that I can figure is that observational studies are simply more common, whereas RCTs are more expensive and thus more rare, and thus get covered less. Of course, you’d hope that if we’re spending that much time and money testing some question in an RCT, that it would be important to the general public and thus would get covered by the popular press. All I have to say to that is that in some ways, nutrition is different from other sciences. Where in physics, we gravitate towards the awe-inspiring (like a black hole snacking on a gas cloud,), in nutrition, people get excited about the mundane (eating yogurt improves digestive health! woohoo!).

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