“Why Most Biomedical Findings Echoed by Newspapers Turn Out to be False”

Using the case of ADHD research as an example, the publication by Gonon, Konsman, Cohen, and Boraud found that newspapers misrepresent the research on areas of interest due to a bias that favours positive findings over those reporting no effect. Add to this that “initial observations are often refuted or attenuated by subsequent studies” in studies that don’t receive the same attention as the original positive reporting.

I am reminded of the cautionary tale of when a false story stating Joe Paterno had died circulated, and how poorly the media responded both to the initial story and to retracting their statement. I wrote:

Half of good journalism is getting it right. The other half is admitting when you were wrong—and granting the retraction as much attention as the original article.

We don’t hold reporting on (biomedical) science to the same standard as political reporting, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t see something parallel to a corrective article. We chastise pundits who cherry-pick the polls that agree with their predictions and ideology (to little effect), so applying this ethical code to scientific reporting shouldn’t be much of a transition.


I probably shouldn’t be too sanctimonious about this, since I am inclined to get excited over Star Trek-esque findings indicating leaps in medical science in particular. I’ll approach these articles with more caution from now on.