The university often sends out a press release when a scholarly article is published. Sometimes, exaggerated health news starts there, Smits finds: “So it comes not only from journalists, but also from the university itself.” In her lecture, Smits explains that she and her students read university press releases and medical news for a year to examine. She cites the relationship between wine and cancer as an example. We distinguish between four types of relationships. 1: No relationship between wine and cancer, 2: There is a relationship but you don’t yet know which direction it will go, 3: Possible cause, Wine can cause cancer, and finally 4: Proximate cause, Wine causes cancer. Then there is no doubt.
“What we usually see in our research is that the study is about a connection but was presented in the press release or in the media as a cause,” says Smits. In the Netherlands, 20% of university press releases are actually exaggerated, and 29% of press reports are exaggerated. I was so shocked by that. If a press release was exaggerated, 92% of these other messages were also exaggerated. But if the press release was neat, 94% of the media reports were neat, too. Only 6% were exaggerated. So if your press release is good, media reporting is also much better.
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