Public Release: 8-Dec-2016
Collaboration between media and medical journals often leads to misinformation and hysteria
Boston University Medical Center
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, the authors question how controversial and weak studies are publicized by the media and often coupled with a narrative that is either false or with little scientific basis. The blame for misleading the public, they believe, should be shouldered equally by journalists, scientists, journal editors and research institutions.
As an example, the authors describe the changes in medical attitudes and practices regarding the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in peri- and post-menopausal women following intense coverage of the Women's Health Initiative study. In 2002, the media reported that this large study had been prematurely halted after it showed greater risks of stroke, death and invasive breast cancer for women who took estrogen and progesterone compared with those who received placebo. Physicians called for immediate curtailment of HRT use in women and prescriptions fell by more than 80 percent and remained at that level for years. Today, healthcare experts still routinely reference this study as demonstrating the dangers of HRT despite the fact that a 2013 follow-up study reported no significant difference between HRT and placebo for mortality or a long list of other adverse events.