June 28, 2005

Hype in Medical Reporting

We sometimes get as caught up in the excitement as any of our readers in the positive reports that relate to the development of new treatments or therapies for schizophrenia. Its natural to get excited about new developments that could provide benefits to millions of people. But while the benefits of new developments are important - its also important to work to identify potential problems so that a balanced report is made. Its difficult for us to do that (due to limited staffing and time constraints), but we'll continue to work to improve our own efforts in this area.

What triggered this thought is that we've just come across a journal article that highlights the fact that "overly positive" reporting is increasingly a problem for all outlets of news - and its something that you (as readers) should be aware of, and therefore be skeptical of.

The point is important - because we publish a lot of short news bites here - without much time to do in-depth research on the accuracy of the claims made. Our intent here is simply to provide a small snapshot of what looks to be interesting news. If the news strikes you as important - we recommend you do a lot more research to validate the claims and find out the negative issues that are frequently not reported. Its easy to get excited about new developments - but its typically a long road from the initial scientific discovery and a final product or treatment that people can actually purchase and receive benefits from -- and by that time, a more balanced view of the treatment or therapy has probably become available.

The article that initiated this blog entry is titled "The Commercialisation of Medical and Scientific Reporting", and in it, the journal suggests:

"There is an expanding body of evidence that suggests that the increasingly commercial nature of biomedical research is having an impact on how science stories are portrayed. Studies have shown that papers in peer-reviewed journals are more likely to contain positive findings if the research is funded by industry [4]. A study that examined pharmaceutical research found that “among the authors of original research papers, reviews and letters to the editor that were supportive of the drugs' use, 96% had financial relationships with the drugs' manufacturers; for publications deemed neutral or critical the figure was only 60% and 37% respectively” [5,6]. To make matters worse, there is also evidence that negative results are either de-emphasised or simply not published [7,8]. This bias is picked up by the popular press and conveyed, largely uncritically, to the public [3].

Commercial influences can spin a story

Commercial influence on public representations of science has the potential to create a skewed picture of biomedical research—a picture that emphasises benefits over risks, and predictions of unrealistic breakthroughs over a tempered explanation of the incremental nature of the advancement of scientific knowledge. In the area of genetics, for example, there is concern that this commercial influence will lead to a simplistic and overly deterministic view of the role of genes in human health and may have an adverse impact on public dialogue [1]. There is also concern that it will create unrealistic expectations about a given scientific advance or product. In the context of health care, this may lead to inappropriate and expensive utilisation patterns.

Given the increasingly close connection between the media's portrayal of science and the broader agenda of commercialisation, some media representations can be viewed as a subtle form of marketing, albeit often inadvertent. One commentator has gone so far as to suggest that, to a large degree, “medical news is actually unpaid advertising” [9].

This is not to say that science reporting is part of a coordinated effort to promote a particular product. On the contrary, there is rarely a specific product to promote, and the media is just looking for an interesting and intriguing story that will help sell papers. However, in the long run, a continued, systemic trend toward positive, industry-influenced reporting may operate in much the same way as an explicit promotional campaign. In fact, optimistic media portrayals could be considered more powerful than promotional campaigns. The message is separated from an obvious marketing agenda and often includes a trusted voice, such as a university-based researcher. Paradoxically, this trust is based in part on a belief in the perceived independence of university researchers.

For full story see: The Commercialisation of Medical and Scientific Reporting


Very frank, and very knowledgable, and very true, and a very sophistacted statement. It has many overtones, and many implications, and generalizes a problem that has many ramifications in many areas.
As all the best scientific statements do one ever sees, being no scientist but only an aritist and saute cook. And it is appreciated because I beleive that freedom to say as I please within understandable bounds I never intentionally cross because I am gentle at heart, and freedom to publish such a statement as this is the greatest hope we have in all the struggles of the humane to help understand disease, mental or otherwise. And in the far greater struggle of all those of us in the mentally ill club, all my brethren, that exclusive club of the mentally ill I belong to, to appreciate the freedoms we have to express ourselves. We are different, and if one would look, we are the most gentle.
Adrenalin is deadly to us, and far and large we are gentle by nature, and want peace within and without. I am an old survivor of the voices, and the terror of the psychosis, that leaves its marks know matter how sane one ever becomes after the ultimate bad trip. For that's all it ever was, and hasn't been for a while, a real bad chemical trip like the worst in the world. Psychosis for real.
I try to express the subjective experience, and I can do that well, if one listens.
Gilthoron the Stareagle
Gil is star in Sindar
the language of Lorien
The star is hope
The eagle is thoron in Sindar
the eagle of Spirit

Posted by: Gilthoron at June 28, 2005 04:00 PM

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