Exaggerated Research Claims Linked to University Press Releases

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Exaggerated Research Claims Linked to University Press Releases
Exaggerated Research Claims Linked to University Press Releases

(HealthDay News) — Exaggerated news reports about health research often can be traced back to press releases issued by universities, a new British study suggests. Improving the accuracy of these news releases could greatly reduce the amount of misleading health news, according to research published in The BMJ.

Petroc Sumner, PhD, of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed 462 news releases on health-related research issued by 20 leading universities in the United Kingdom in 2011 and compared them with the studies they described and with 668 pieces of national news coverage about the studies.

The researchers found that, compared with the actual studies, 40% of the releases contained exaggerated advice, one-third contained exaggerated causal claims and 36% contained exaggerated inferences about how animal research applied to people. 

If press releases exaggerated the research, it was more likely that news coverage would do the same — 58% for advice, 81% for causal claims and 86% for inference to humans. When press releases did not exaggerate, rates of exaggeration in news coverage were 17%, 18% and 10%, respectively.

The blame "lies mainly with the increasing culture of university competition and self-promotion, interacting with the increasing pressures on journalists to do more with less time," the researchers wrote.


  1. Sumner P et al. BMJ. 2014;doi:10.1136/bmj.g7015.
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