Press releases and science news play an important role in the dissemination of research to the public. Press releases and news articles 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 findings in an academic publication or conference.
Step 2: The researcher’s university or research institute puts out a press release to promote that research and 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 or journal articles as the basis for science stories. The researchers’ findings will be further translated for a general audience. Sometimes research can be misinterpreted by non-experts or exaggerated to generate “click bait.” This can result in the misrepresentation of the original research.
The research study “Positive Selection on a Regulatory Insertion–Deletion Polymorphism in FADS2 Influences Apparent Endogenous Synthesis of Arachidonic Acid” was reported in the news as “Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns.”
Detailed 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, but the media reported a decrease in preeclampsia risk.
The slides below show how the research was presented differently in the original research, 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.
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 to evaluate information in press releases or the news
- After reading a press release or news article that interests you, read the original research