Do the print media "hype" genetic research? A comparison of newspaper stories and peer-reviewed research papers

Bubela, Tania M.; Caulfield, Timothy A.
April 2004
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;4/27/2004, Vol. 170 Issue 9, p1399
Academic Journal
Background: The public gets most of its information about ge-netic research from the media. It has been suggested that media representations may involve exaggeration, called "genohype."To examine the accuracy and nature of media coverage of genetic research, we reviewed the reporting of single-gene discoveries and associated technologies in major daily newspapers in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and Australia. Methods: We used neutral search terms to identify articles about gene discoveries and associated technologies hosted on the Dow Jones Interactive and Canadian NewsDisk data-bases from January 1995 to June 2001. We compared the contents, claims and conclusions of the scientific journal ar-ticle with those of the associated newspaper article. Coders subjectively assigned the newspaper articles to 1 of 3 cate-gories: moderately to highly exaggerated claims, slightly exaggerated claims or no exaggerated claims. We used clas-sification tree software to identify the variables that con-tributed to the assignment of each newspaper article to 1 of the 3 categories: attention structure (positioning in the newspaper and length of the article), authorship, research topic, source of information other than the scientific paper, type and likelihood of risks and benefits, discussion of con-troversy, valuation tone (positive or negative), framing (e.g., description of research, celebration of progress, report of economic prospects or ethical perspective), technical accu-racy (either omissions or errors that changed the description of the methods or interpretation of the results) and use of metaphors. Results: We examined 627 newspaper articles reporting on 111 papers published in 24 scientific and medical journals. Only 11% of the newspaper articles were categorized as having moderately to highly exaggerated claims; the majority were categorized as having no claims (63%) or slightly exaggerated claims (26%). The classification...


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