May 28, 2024

Whose fault is “genohype”: journalists or scientists?

A Canadian study has found that English-speaking media is surprisingly accurate in reporting on genetic research, even though it tends to overemphasise its benefits and underplay its risks. Timothy Caulfield, of the University of Alberta, has reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that only 11% of selected articles in 26 newspapers from Canada, the US, Britain and Australia dealing with genetic discoveries from January 1995 to June 2001 were “significantly exaggerated or inaccurate”. Most of the articles, 63%, made no exaggerated claims and 82% had no significant scientific or technical errors.

However, Caulfield found that only 15% of the articles spoke about the risks of research — while nearly all mentioned the benefits. He suggests that “journalists may not always be the primary source of exaggerated claims”. Much of the “genohype” in the media may reflect the claims of scientists under pressure to “make their research sound exciting and immediately applicable”.