covering our community

Jumping to Conclusions: The Research Article to Mass Media Cycle

“Laika’s MedLibLog” blogger, Jacqueline, discussed the heated debate and dangers of oversimplifying research results in mass media for “lay-people” to understand. [1]

Although her main argument was about peer reviewer Daniel Lakens nit-picking an article that was specifically written for lay-people to understand better,   she did bring up some interesting and insightful points about simplifying findings to the point of being inaccurate and blown out of proportion.

However, this oversimplification isn’t the result of just one bad journalist. She explains that an original research journal goes through many hands before reaching the main public.

It starts with the original copy and intent intact; it is then translated by a public relations (or as she describes it, “science communication”) for news outlets, is picked up by average-Joe internet users and misconstrued with superficial reactions and judgments, and finally taken advantage of by mass media to frame it into supposed factual evidence rather than variables that showed a high correlation between one another.

She stated in her blog that “authors shouldn’t make overstatements,” and they “shouldn’t raise expectations to a level which cannot be met.”

Another example of this oversimplification is “Say People” blog: “Write Longer Research Papers to increase your chances of Citations.” [2] Although the article explains that the length of the research paper may reflect a “higher complexity level and quality” than that of “brief reports,” and thus may be the reason for greater citations rather than sheer length, the first two out of the three Tweet reactions from readers were: “Another strange coherence -> Write longer Research Papers to increase your chances of Citations;” and “WTF: Write longer Research Papers to increase your chances of Citations.”

The title of the blog itself aids in the misconstruction and disconnect of the original research’s intent and conclusion.

In retrospect, be concise as possible with writing news blogs, be active and critical readers, and make an effort not to mislead readers into preemptively constructing conclusions that was never there.

~ Dom

References

  1. Jacqueline: BAD Science or BAD Science Journalism? – A Response to Daniel Lakens – Feb 10. 2013 (http://tinyurl.com/a6plmkj)
  2. Say People: Write longer Research Papers to increase your chances of Citations – Feb 11, 2013 (http://tinyurl.com/cfglaxh)
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