Video credit: Boston University

When flawed clinical research is reported in the media with hype and sensationalism, it has the potential to have a devastating effect on patients, physicians, the scientific community, and eventually society as a whole.

In a review article in the journal EMBO Reports, researchers question how controversial and weak studies are publicized by the media and are often coupled with a narrative that is either false or with little scientific basis. They believe the blame for misleading the public should be shouldered equally by journalists, scientists, journal editors, and research institutions.

doctor reading medical journal

“We believe that the collaboration between media and scientific journals in communicating advances in science and medicine to the public may result in misinformation and distortion. Unfortunately, this collaboration often exaggerates and allows bad science to be disseminated and shared. Media is often drawn to these controversial studies and they promote them with a narrative that is difficult to change even if it is wrong,” explains lead author Abdulmaged M. Traish, PhD, professor of biochemistry and urology.

Traish and his colleagues believe a number of strategies could help prevent medical professionals and the general public from accepting distorted study results and their coverage in the media, including recognizing the collaboration between medical journals; being wary of pronouncements from individuals who are unlikely to have clinical experience with a drug or treatment, and recognizing the limitations of any one study since as many as 70 percent of the most highly cited studies eventually prove to be unreproducible.

Traish believes this analysis of how the media and medical journals promote questionable studies is of critical importance to the public, academics, policy makers and research institutions. “This is an issue that needs to be discussed, debated, and taught to our medical students to be prepared to enter the real world of medicine and its complexities.”