The Unspin Cycle for Science News

When science is digested into news it often ends up distorted–causal claims can be made about correlational data, hype can prevail over caution, etc.  Research shows that a lot of the fault lies with the researchers–when they summarize their research with outsized claims, these are magnified in the press-release and news cycles.

Give then stakes involved in biomedical research it would be great if we could make science reporting more accurate–if it could be unspun back into a set of reasonable conclusions clearly supported by the data. Apparently, an organization exists to do just that: Health News Review.

Health News Review is another clever initiative funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  If you click through the site you’ll see science news releases rated for their accuracy and re-stated to remove the hype.  There are also running grades for different news organizations, resources for better understanding news and links to trusted sources.  I think my favorite thing is a rubric for grading science news that is clear and objective–I plan on having my students use it to assess science news stories and to write their own.  Importantly, the criteria emphasize quantitative assessments–giving readers a sense of how much a treatment helps, how much it costs, how great the risks of complications are, etc.  Amen!

Check out the review criteria here:

I learned about this resource from a talk by Isabelle Boutron, MD, PhD, Epidemiologist.  Here’s a post about her talk:



I'm a teacher, researcher, and gadfly of neuroscience. My research interests are in the neural basis of learning and memory, the history of neuroscience, computational neuroscience, bibliometrics, and the philosophy of science. I teach courses in neuroscience, statistics, research methods, learning and memory, and happiness. In my spare time I'm usually tinkering with computers, writing programs, or playing ice hockey.

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