Should the media be allowed to interpret research findings?

The idea for this blog came to me when I was reading an article about the Daily Mail being completely useless (a regular read I know). Basically the have managed to set a new record for the most inaccurate interpretations of research findings. There is a whole scale system, its pretty awesome actually, but that is a completely different tangent that I shall not be exploring at the point, which makes me conclude that the media should not be allowed to interpret research findings, and I’m gonna tell you why…
The article* clearly highlights the dangers of misinterpretation of data, exploring the real research behind daily mail headlines such as ‘Just one can of diet fizzy drink can increase risk of heart attack or stroke. Articles such as this can create mass panic over many people’s current habits, when actually the research conducted shows that drinking excessive amounts of fizzy drink can lead to increase risk of heart attack. Showing here that the media are capable of putting the worldwide panic by presenting false conclusions to the world.

Well you may be thinking okay, but to be fair people should probably be careful about fizzy drink consumption anyway, it can’t be that much of a big deal, and you may be right and this is the daily mail, nearly everyone realises that they have a tendency to exaggerate, right? However, this isn’t the only issue of media misinterpretation.

In 2006 Wright, Bradley, Sheldon and Lilford** looked into an episode for BBC’s Panaroma, where they programme tarnished various surgeons reputations by making allegations of neglect. All of the information that started this from a report that looked at the patients of 138 various Yorkshire surgeons, finding that one particular surgeon had a post-surgery life expectancy 5 years shorter than average. However, after the programme was aired further analysis of the report was done, it found that the 5 years was not significantly different from the other surgeons, and therefore was due to chance. This example clearly shows the media should not be allowed to interpret findings, because they have managed to ruin one mans career, because they didn’t look closely enough at the report they based a television programme on.

Looking at the evidence, a clear case for not letting media interpret research findings is beginning to form. However, in the western world there will always be an issue over freedom of speech. There have been varying debate over the years to what extend people/the media are allowed freedom of speech. In fact a Danish newspaper provoked this exact argument in 2006*** when it printed a controversial cartoon. The conclusion of this argument was that free speech should be allowed, but in the nature of offensive material caution should be taken and people should engage in self-censorship. So if the media have been given the freedom of speech over something as controversial as an insulting cartoon, then surely just passing on the findings of a research paper must be allowed, even if those ideas are incorrect.

So; to conclude, I feel that there are many errors presented in the media that should be avoided, but according to the western ideal of free speech then there is nothing that can be done to change this.





11 responses to “Should the media be allowed to interpret research findings?

  1. The argument for free speech should not allow the media to post fictitious inaccurate research findings. The media should be allowed to interpret research but only to make it more understandable for the public, because many people may not understand statistics. But what the media tends to do is take the basics of the research findings and then draws false conclusions. One way we could try to prevent the media from doing this is by making them fully cite the research clearly or have links at the start of the article so the public are able to see where they are getting their information from. This would deter the media from exaggerating research findings because knowing that the public are able to follow up their false claims and prove them wrong would affect their readership.
    Great blog topic 🙂

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  3. It is a great misfortune that the media can interpret research with such ignorance. I would, however, say that the solution lies not in controlling what the media do, but encouraging researchers to branch out more into the public domain. It is unlikely that these reporters know much about the science in which they are speaking, that won’t change. They trained as journalists, not scientists. I am not including, of course, scientific journalists. For every misinformed article there will be ten that get their facts straight. However it is the former that often get the widespread attention. REAL scienctific findings, and their explanations, could make their way into more mainstream media, alongside some of the nonsense that we hear. At the end of the day, it is down to educating the masses to be wary of suspicious results and providing them with an alternative.

  4. Overall, media should have the right to report research. It is for the masses and not just academics/researchers/students, and will render it almost useless if it cannot be utilized in some sense. Not allowing general media to report research could result in a negative attitude towards it, prevent funding or eventually we will have nothing to talk about so we will all turn into ignoramuses. The problems you have highlighted are very real and can cause some serious damage, so perhaps a method of tackling this problem would be to attempt to unbias and monitor what is being printed. The overriding issue is that research can fall victim to the media’s urge to sell. Researchers are conducting studies to find things out, or help people. Newspapers print research to sell papers, the motivation is entirely different. Perhps media could employ objective, knowledgeable parties to review what is written. Unfortunately I think you are right that the western world has a freak out whenever they hear the words “monitor” or there is a suggestion of “censorship”. Perhaps promoting the manipulation of results is the best way forward. The Daily Mail could write an explosive article for how The Daily Mail abuses research findings.
    Great blog!

  5. I really liked the blog topic. I 100% agree with you that media over exaggerated facts. Different newspapers that are considered as ‘good’ ones tend to do this. For example article in Guardian- The brain scan that can read people’s intentions. Sounds fancy but do we really have brain scan that does this? Well, no we do not. (
    I think media does this in order to increase the rate of the sale of the magazine. As people tend to judge book by its cover we prefer to read something that sounds interesting. We were be less likely to buy an newspaper with heading that sounds boring for example: psychological study found that stress related disease can occur as a result of persisting stressor. Instead of: Scientific found that you can die if you are stressed. As most of the general public never did any scientific discipline they do not how the research findings are really reported and therefore they can be easily deceived. This raises the ethical questions. Is it really right to deceive general public? Those headings work as subliminal messages that prompt us to buy the paper. The study carried out in New York showed that when presented with words ‘’buy coke ‘’for couple of millisecond during the movie, the selling rate of coke has increased. Subliminal messages are currently illegal, so why should those headlines not be? Well maybe because they are operating on consumer psychology principles and those headlines increases the rate of soled magazines. And if the money are involved we cannot do anything. Therefore general public would benefit from basic statistic knowledge. As we are not only deceived in newspaper but in general across advertisement. For example in TV advertisements, actors agreeing that the shampoo increases volume because the research in NASA has been carried out which shows this. Really? Research by NASA? This made me laugh so much when I have seen this advertisement. People will belief in everything that has been backed up with some kind of research even fake one. Coming back to the topic I think it is perfectly wrong for media report findings in this way. AS it does not really gives the true aim of the research but what media wants us to think. Our thoughts are influenced by their thoughts and we cannot really perceive independently. Therefore do we really have freedom of speech? Not really if our thoughts has been previously influenced. Research conducted in Australia showed that our cognitions are easily influenced by messages and changes our ability to for example do well on the test. ( ) Therefore I have to disagree with you on the point that you made about freedom of speech. As truly we do not have this right anymore and that’s why I think they should do something with it.

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  7. Hhhhmmmmnnn….Just how far can we go with freedom of speech to know that we are or have crossed the line??? Here is a situation where all these rights and freedom of expression cause debate. Although the intention of the media is to only increase ratings and sales, to be honest in a way he media does control the minds of many. And I am convinced that if they were to put real and honest conclusions in their papers, the papers would still sale just as before. But on the topic of should they (the media) be allowed to interpret research findings, I think that they should. The cause of the state of panic though it is induced by what is published, it is the duty of the masses also to be able to know truth from error. As a people we are becoming more and more complacent to the point where we can just believe anything and the fact of the matter is, the media is only taking advantage of that. If people stopped being so complacent and challenged the publications of the media, the media would quickely switch gears inorder to keep their customers. So the problem is not just with the media, but the people have allowed the media to do their own manipulations ’cause we want everything to be done for us and thus we do not challenge ’cause we wouldn’t know where to begin.

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  10. interesting topic and nicely done 😀
    And I agree with your points, I think media is kind of a power now, they are not really there, but once they published something, (almost)everyone will believe so.
    And many of the media has crossed the line that over-do things, some of them may just wanted to be helpful (helping people to get away from trap) and some always over exaggerated things/facts. And for researches, media is really a potential pain since the over-reacting of media may destroy the research and does not even allow the researchers to explain the situation.
    Freedom of speech is 50/50 good and bad really.

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