Context While medical journals strive to ensure accuracy and the acknowledgment
of limitations in articles, press releases may not reflect these efforts.
Methods Telephone interviews conducted in January 2001 with press officers at
9 prominent medical journals and analysis of press releases (n = 127) about
research articles for the 6 issues of each journal preceding the interviews.
Results Seven of the 9 journals 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 (eg, length) but no standards for acknowledging limitations
or for data presentation. Editorial input varies from none to intense. Of
the 127 releases analyzed, 29 (23%) noted study limitations and 83 (65%) reported
main effects using numbers; 58 reported differences between study groups and
of these, 26 (55%) provided the corresponding base rate, the format least
prone to exaggeration. Industry funding was noted in only 22% of 23 studies
receiving such funding.
Conclusions Press releases do not routinely highlight study limitations or the role
of industry funding. Data are often presented using formats that may exaggerate
the perceived importance of findings.