Press releases and science news play an important role in the dissemination of research to the public. Press releases and the new articles based on them are the primary way that the public learns about advances in scientific research.
Press releases and science news stories can also be a great way for students and researchers to learn about new research, but they can over-simplify information for a non-scientific audience and can sometimes exaggerate or misinterpret findings.
When evaluating information, we need to be aware of how scientific information can be portrayed, and sometimes misconstrued, in press releases and in the news.
How does it work?
Step 1: Researchers share their their findings in an academic publication or at a conference.
Step 2: The researcher’s university or research institute puts out a press release to promote that research and hopefully convince the press to write about it. Press releases translate research for a non-academic audience and information can be generalized or lost in translation.
Step 3: News outlets take press releases as the basis of for science stories. The researcher’s findings will be further translated for a general audience. Sometimes research can be exaggerated to generate “click bait” or misinterpreted by non-experts and this can result in the misrepresentation of the original research.
For example, the research study “Positive Selection on a Regulatory Insertion–Deletion Polymorphism in FADS2 Influences Apparent Endogenous Synthesis of Arachidonic Acid” becomes the news article “Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns.” See below for a more detailed example.
Example: The Benefits of Chocolate During Pregnancy
In 2016, a group of researchers presented their study, High-flavanol chocolate to improve placental function and to decrease the risk of preeclampsia: a double blind randomized clinical trial, at a conference. They found “no difference” in preeclampsia risk in their study groups, yet the media reported a decrease in preeclampsia risk.
The slides below show how the research was presented originally, in the press-release about the study and in the media:
Using Press Releases and News Stories
Press releases and news stories can be a great way to learn about new research advances, but we need to be aware of the limitations demonstrated above.
Always critically evaluate the information presented and make sure to check the original research. Press releases and news stories often link to the original research article, so you can easily find the original research study and use it in your own work.
- Use the CRAAP test to evaluate information in press releases or the news
- After reading the press release or news article that interests you, always read the original research