Steven Woloshin, MD, and Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, of Dartmouth Medical School and the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group examined the medical press release process at several high-profile medical journals and reviewed recent releases to evaluate how study findings are presented and whether limitations and potential conflicts of interest are acknowledged.
While medical journals strive to ensure accuracy and the acknowledgment of limitations in articles, press releases may not reflect these efforts, say the authors. Medical journal press releases are perhaps the most direct way that journals communicate with the media. Although releases provide an opportunity to help journalists get stories "right," there has been little scrutiny of the release process or quality.
For this study, the authors conducted telephone interviews in January 2001 with press officers at nine prominent medical journals and analyzed 127 press releases about research articles, for the six issues of each journal preceding the interviews.
Seven of the nine study journals routinely issue press releases: Annals of Internal Medicine, British Medical Journal (BMJ), Circulation, JAMA, Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), Lancet and Pediatrics. The Annals of Surgery and New England Journal of Medicine do not routinely issue press releases.
The researchers found that of the journals that routinely issue releases, "in each case, the editor with the press office selects articles based on perceived newsworthiness and releases are written by press officers trained in communications. Journals have general guidelines (e.g., length) but no standards for ackno
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