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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[HealthNewsReview.Org Weekly Digest item] – Scientific Conference News Caveat

Those of you who read my posts regularly know one of my themes is to read scientific and medical news items carefully with an eye to interpreting them objectively. *

Here are some excerpts from the 12 November 2012 HealthNewsReview.org weekly update

…the cheerleaders of health care journalism often rush to publish news from scientific conferences that is not ready for prime time – at least not without caveats and context. So that explains our post this week:

An important reminder – for journalists and for the general public – appears in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.  The paper is entitled, “The Conversion of Cardiovascular Conference Abstracts to Publications,” and it is published right about the same time as the American Heart Association’s own huge Scientific Sessions wrapped up for 2012.   We wrote earlier about some of our concerns about news coverage from this meeting.

The new journal article provides sound reasons for why our concerns about conference news coverage are sound. The researchers analyzed abstracts presented at the American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), and European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Scientific Sessions from 2006-2008. Then they checked how many were published.

Drum roll, please….

  • Less than one-third of the presented abstracts were published within two years of the conference presentation.
  • After five years, the rates rose a bit to 49.7% for AHA, 42.6% for ACC, and 37.6% for ESC .

So while some journalists are glued to coverage of these meetings, publishing daily for general news audiences that may not understand the nuances of the limitations of drawing conclusions from talks presented at scientific meetings, most of this stuff isn’t even published in the medical literature for at least 5 years – if ever!

Why does this matter?

Such news coverage creates a rose-colored view of progress in research.  It may not be inaccurate but it most certainly misleads and lacks important context if it doesn’t present caveats about the limitations.

Don’t forget the important JAMA paper, “Media Coverage of Scientific Meetings: Too Much, Too Soon?” which concluded:

“Results are frequently presented to the public as scientifically sound evidence rather than as preliminary findings with still uncertain validity. With some effort on the part of meeting organizers, journalists, and scientists, it will be possible to better serve the public.”..

Related articles at HealthNewsReview.org

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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