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Communicating to Readers
June 5, 2002

Press Releases: Translating Research Into News

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: VA Outcomes Group, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, White River Junction, Vt; Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH; and Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Lebanon, NH.

JAMA. 2002;287(21):2856-2858. doi:10.1001/jama.287.21.2856

Context While medical journals strive to ensure accuracy and the acknowledgment of limitations in articles, press releases may not reflect these efforts.

Methods Telephone interviews conducted in January 2001 with press officers at 9 prominent medical journals and analysis of press releases (n = 127) about research articles for the 6 issues of each journal preceding the interviews.

Results Seven of the 9 journals routinely issue releases; in each case, the editor with the press office selects articles based on perceived newsworthiness and releases are written by press officers trained in communications. Journals have general guidelines (eg, length) but no standards for acknowledging limitations or for data presentation. Editorial input varies from none to intense. Of the 127 releases analyzed, 29 (23%) noted study limitations and 83 (65%) reported main effects using numbers; 58 reported differences between study groups and of these, 26 (55%) provided the corresponding base rate, the format least prone to exaggeration. Industry funding was noted in only 22% of 23 studies receiving such funding.

Conclusions Press releases do not routinely highlight study limitations or the role of industry funding. Data are often presented using formats that may exaggerate the perceived importance of findings.