Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Forget Fake News: Is PR Hype the Big Problem in Science?

By Lyndal Byford

The problem of over-hyped science news is undermining public trust in science.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A media release screams “blockbuster, a world first breakthrough” and even comes with the word “cure” tantalisingly dangled, ready for a time-poor journalist to grab hold of.

An editor demands the story goes online before anyone else gets the scoop. For the busy journalist, unused to covering science, it can be incredibly difficult to be a lone voice when the rest of the media pack are following the line.

It is a formula I see repeated across the news pages on a regular basis, and it’s too easy to place the blame with busy journalists for over-egging research claims. But every step in the pathway from research to reader plays a role in providing accuracy and balance, and journalists are not the only ones to blame for science hype. Sometimes they are just passing it on.

More than a decade ago, Australasian Science reported that almost half of the news releases posted on the science press website EurekAlert! were labelled as a “breakthrough” (https://goo.gl/fMHxL2). Little has changed since then. Exaggeration in news can still be traced back to exaggeration in media releases, with a 2014 study of hype in media releases (https://goo.gl/2SDGSe) showing more than one-third continue to contain overstated claims.

This...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.