Friday, September 14, 2012

Keeping Scientists Honest 

Is it the job of the PR practitioner to keep scientists honest?  This study would make it seem so in medical reporting.  The research discovered that news stories containing unacceptable spin about research results most often came from press releases and scientific abstracts that were exaggerating claims.  The following quote is alarming:

"The press releases often built off of the spin in the studies. Of the press releases that contained spin, 93% were from studies that had spin in their abstracts. In fact, spin present in the study was the only significant factor associated with spin in the press release. A whopping 31% of press releases misinterpreted the scientists’ findings, with the vast majority conflating the benefits of the study’s tested treatment."

In other words, as we have often written in this space, one cannot trust a scientist to stick to facts, especially if he or she is in love with the work and/or bucking for gain.  What this tells me is that PR practitioners need to be as skeptical with researchers as with anyone else.  Spin is ultimately harmful to the researcher, to the institution and to the practitioner who allows such "dreck" to get into public circulation.  This means, however, that PR practitioners have to know enough about the research to evaluate it properly.  That is a tall order that almost certainly calls for practitioners with medical studies in their backgrounds.  Parroting what the scientist says is no longer enough.


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