Commentators Lack Expertise in Media Coverage of Medical Studies

Undisclosed academic and financial conflicts of interest may influence analysis of clinical research.

Media coverage of medical research often includes comments from independent sources, however, a quarter of commentators lack relevant clinical and academic expertise.

According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, only 1 of 6 new stories include quotes from independent commenters.

“Despite recommendations that news stories about health research include comments from independent sources, only about 1 in 6 stories generated in response to clinical research published in major medical journals included such comments,” wrote co-author Dr Andrew Grey. “These observations may be important because media coverage of medical research affects the views and behavior of the general public, and academic and clinical communities.”

Among the independent commenters, the study results showed that academic conflict of interest was present for 54%, while financial conflict of interest was present for 32%.

“It is not surprising that academic conflicts of interest were frequently present for editorialists (about 40%), but it is surprising that financial conflicts of interest were equally common and that only a minority were disclosed,” the authors wrote. “All of the journals included in the current analysis require disclosure of financial conflicts.”

To avoid these problems, the authors suggested that strategies to improve the quality and independence of comments in health news stories —–including the disclosure of conflicts of interest––should be developed and tested.

“The call to develop and evaluate strategies to include more genuinely independent and informed commenters in coverage of medical research is welcome, as part of wider efforts to make medical journalism healthier—–in media new and old,” said co-author Dr Ray Moynihan.