Chuang AT, Chen AJ, Chan JJ, Margo CE, Greenberg PB. Retinal ImplantsAnalysis of the News Media Perspective. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014;132(1):119-120. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.5356
Retinal implants offer an innovative solution to restoring sight to those with severe vision loss. Although research is still in its infancy, developing a retinal prosthesis is possible given advances in microelectronic technology. The complexity of the bioengineering task and the proprietary nature of the research, however, make assessment of progress challenging even for medical professionals. The public acquires information about emerging retinal prostheses through mass media, but journalists may not be fully qualified to understand and disseminate information about this technically sophisticated research.1 We investigated the quality of news reports of retinal implants from 3 major news sources in the United States (television, newspaper, and Internet) and describe our findings as the first generation of devices become commercially available.2
Peer-reviewed literature was identified through a computerized search of PubMed using key terms “retinal implant” and “retinal prosthesis.” Additional studies were found through spin-off references. Media analysis focused on main news outlets as determined by television viewership, newspaper circulation, and Internet traffic for news media websites. Television news was subdivided for analysis into broadcast and cable programming. Three readers (A.T.C., A.J.C., and J.J.C.) independently graded media reports published between June 24, 1999, and July 26, 2012, and compared those news reports with the peer-reviewed literature from which they were derived. The readers used a Likert scale (grades 1-5, with a grade of 5 representing strongest agreement with peer-reviewed literature) to assess the following: (1) scientific accuracy; (2) journalistic neutrality; and (3) realistic outlook. Grades from each report and category were summed to calculate mean total grades. Interobserver reliability was determined using intraclass coefficient for agreement, based on analysis of variance.2 A 2-way random-effects model was used to render reliability estimates applicable to a random broad population of readers (appendices are available on request).
Table 1 shows research groups, implant names, and technical features of retinal prostheses under development that have been reported through news outlets. A total of 93 media reports on retinal prostheses were identified and analyzed. Mean grades for media reports were 10.3 for Internet, 10.3 for broadcast news, 11.1 for cable news, and 12.4 for newspaper. Overall, newspaper coverage was graded statistically higher than broadcast and Internet news (Table 2). Newspaper reports generally contained more detail and presented both positive and negative aspects of retinal implants. Internet, cable, and broadcast news received the lowest categorical grades for realistic outlook.
Media reports tended to cluster in time, but grades of reports were independent of publication date (correlation coefficient = 0.08). The intraclass coefficients for reviewers’ grades fell in the good range (0.61-0.80) for all categories, ranging from a low of 0.61 for cable television to a high of 0.76 for broadcast news.3
This study shows that news media, in general, portray retinal implants in more enthusiastic terms than the current peer-reviewed literature, with generally low realistic outlook grades. However, our findings varied by medium. Newspaper articles tended to have more balanced reporting and relied on less emotionally oriented techniques to cover the story. Broadcast news was less accurate and more effusive in their depiction of retinal prostheses. Internet news received low overall grades for scientific accuracy, balanced reporting, and realistic outlook. As the newest facet of the news industry, the Internet is currently least prone to editorial review and fact checks.
The psychological role that hope of restored vision has in the lives of persons who are blind is immeasurable, but advances in bioengineering that make a retinal prosthesis possible undoubtedly raise expectations. Particularly with US Food and Drug Administration approval of the Argus II retinal implant in February 2013, news reports describing this emerging technology will only grow in number. Likewise, patients will increasingly rely on ophthalmologists to provide impartial interpretation of advances and applicability. The propensity of the media to convey unrealistic expectations and factual inaccuracies must be taken into consideration when physicians discuss retinal prostheses with patients.
Corresponding Author: Paul B. Greenberg, MD, Section of Ophthalmology, VA Medical Center, 830 Chalkstone Ave, Providence, RI 02908 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Published Online: November 14, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.5356.
Author Contributions: Ms Chuang and Dr Greenberg had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study concept and design: Chuang, Greenberg.
Acquisition of data: Chuang, Chen.
Analysis and interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Chuang, Chen.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Chuang, Chan, Margo, Greenberg.
Statistical analysis: Chuang, Chen, Margo.
Obtained funding: Chuang.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Chan, Greenberg.
Study supervision: Margo, Greenberg.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Funding/Support: This work was supported by an Alpert Medical School of Brown University Summer Assistantship (Ms Chuang).
Role of the Sponsor: The Alpert Medical School had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.
Additional Contributions: Rahul S. Dalal, BS, and Kelly E. MacDonald, BS, students at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, assisted in the initial evaluation of media reports; Joseph W. Hogan, ScD, Professor of Biostatistics, Brown University, provided biostatistical advice.