Cancer cured! Breathing causes cancer! Ebola cured with kale! Oh wait...

Press releases for scientific work is an important part of research.  Intrinsic to the beautiful nature of science is communicating what you've found. I believe strongly that papers should be accessible to everyone and popular news outlets should have easy to understand summaries of research. I think the public stops paying attention to scientific discoveries because there's just  no way to understand what's real when headlines one week claim chocolate will kill you and then the next week it cures cancer. Well which is it people?!

Avoiding claims of causation is difficult! It's actually hard not to read results or conclusions of a paper and think X means Y! When W happens then Z occurs! R leads to S! We want answers and tidy explanations. The simpler and easier to understand the better! I can definitely say it's totally frustrating to read an inconclusive conclusion, try to avoid disappointment and move towards thinking well, more research required!

But often in popular reporting headlines are written that terribly misrepresent new studies. It drives me crazy! No doubt it drives the original authors crazy as well when the media department of their company or university rushes a press release with incomplete or even incorrect information. (I still feel so badly for the young scientist who had her work spotlighted and then immediately savaged because NASA announced a press conference claiming "new life discovered"!!! It sure wasn't aliens but what other conclusion could possibly have been drawn???)

Preventing bad reporting on health research - Academics should be made accountable for exaggerations in press releases about their own work

Ben Goldacre claims scientists are responsible for misrepresentations of their work in the press. I agree! I also think there are other issues going on here, publish or perish, PR as a staff position, and PR folks who may not understand what they're pushing, or they do but are purposely inflating (or outright lying about) findings for attention. I don't think it's always the researchers at fault. 

So how much responsibility should the original authors hold?

moComment