Doing science to it

I often run updates on the news stories we put out from f1000 that are picked up in the media. Most of the time it’s good coverage, occasionally (as the mainstream news media is wont to do) they misinterpret the research and then some poor reporting is cut-and-pasted on blogs around the world.

In the UK, the Daily Mail and Daily Express are routinely derided for their page 1 mix of medical scare stories and unfounded cancer wonder drug revelations. US readers will have their own examples of media outlets that think ‘doing science’* to a story (eg. quoting stats from a straw poll by a first-year researcher from a low-grade institution) makes it factually correct.

The subject of the discussion today was this release on an F1000 Medicine review of research into how first-time mothers who have long-term exposure to a father’s semen have a lower risk of preeclampsia and generally healthier babies. The title was catchy, the science was sound and the story related to sex so it was bound to gain traction and it did, from the UK Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sky News Australia and a raft of medical and science blogs.

A blogger on Blisstree says using the word ‘faithful’ in the headline was incorrect and if you look into the detail of the study, the main focus is on the duration of sexual relationship between the mother and biological father, while the number of sexual partners is a sidenote. So we take it on the chin that the word ‘faithful’ was misplaced but the Blisstree blogger was wrong to say that many news stories (and us, by association) got the facts wrong.

It pays to be careful when making big statements: sometimes the difficulty is crunching the original title (in this case, Duration of sexual relationship and its effect on preeclampsia and small for gestational age perinatal outcome) into one that is factually correct and easy to understand. But not so simple that the original message gets lost and people start believing that tea cures cancer or other such nonsense.

*When it comes to ‘doing science’ to anything, this is the only time it’s applicable (thanks to Dresden Codak):

Doing science to it

Image courtesy of: http://topatoco.com/

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Filed under Communication, F1000, Journalism.

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