School of Psychology News & events

Research Summary

Chambers, C, Sumner, P, Boivin, J, Williams, A (2013) The role of journal press releases in shaping biomedical news reporting.  Wellcome Trust.  £3,743.

Summary

Public understanding of science and health is an important issue in society. Whether the topic is climate change, GM foods, or vaccines, each requires informed public engagement to arrive at democratic and ethically responsible solutions. Our project aims to uncover the causes of misreporting of health-related science, with implications for improving the interaction between scientists, the media, and the public.

Despite years of debate about the (mis)representation of science in the media, there remains little hard evidence to indicate when, where and why problems arise. Our previous research has been among the first to address this issue, suggesting that university press releases (PRs) are a source of misreporting. The proposed study will investigate an even more crucial, but hitherto ignored, link between science and the media: PRs issued by major academic journals.

Understanding the origin of misreporting is crucial for three reasons. First, occasional gross failure in the science-media relationship, such as in the MMR scandal, causes demonstrable harm and death.  Second, the cumulative effect of smaller-scale misrepresentation damages society by jeopardising public education and eroding trust in science. Finally, knowing origins of misreporting would allow for development of corrective guidelines that improve practices in PR formulation.