Monday, December 13, 2010

Science Daily: News or What?

Guest Blog
by Phil Space

Skeptical Scalpel was recently taken to task by a leading medical journalist for seeming to confuse the website Science Daily with an actual news organization.

It took a while to catch on but for the last couple of months Skeptical Scalpel says he has been aware the website Science Daily simply publishes press releases received from journals, organizations, research laboratories and other entities. Despite having this knowledge, he feels that Science Daily at least simulates news and does have some impact on the way stories are perceived. I asked Skeptical Scalpel to explain.

He said, “Science Daily comes across as something resembling news in four ways. First, someone over there has to decide which of the hundreds of press releases received every day will be featured. Second, the articles are written as if someone has indeed interviewed a member of the research team. This tends to make the piece read as if it were real news. Third, look at the way the information is presented on the website. The masthead clearly states ‘Your source for the latest research news.’” [See photo below]

He went on to say, “And fourth, you will note the grossly misleading headline ‘Estrogen Alone Is Effective for Reducing Breast Cancer Risk, Study Finds,’ which belies the fact that the study it refers to concerns a subgroup of patients who had undergone hysterectomy as part of a larger study. The finding is not only not applicable to all women, it may not be even applicable to women who have had hysterectomies because of the pitfalls of post hoc subgroup analysis. In fact, the press coordinator of the symposium at which the study was presented as a poster has expressed regret that a press release was issued.”

Skeptical Scalpel went on to say that he had queried Science Daily in the August and again in the past few days regarding how it chooses articles to display and said, “I never received a reply.”

It may not be journalism but is it news? You decide.

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