Last October, Brigham and Women’s Hospital took the unusual step of recalling a press release about a research study.
Just hours before the study’s embargo lifted, Brigham’s press officers asked the researchers to stop giving interviews, and barely half an hour before the story went live, they alerted the press that the study’s data was “weak.”
People involved in the decision say it’s the first time the Harvard-affiliated hospital had ever publicly pulled its support for a study.
Of course, Brigham’s disavowal of the research became the headline instead:
- “Harvard Hospital Admits it Promoted Weak Science on Aspartame” was the title of Robert Bazell’s piece for NBC news.
- Allison Aubrey’s story “Data Linking Aspartame to Cancer Risk are Too Weak to Defend, Hospital Says” took more measured strides but generally traveled down the same road for NPR’s food blog, The Salt.
Since Brigham’s decision not to promote the study, I reached out to the hospital’s media team, the study authors, and the editor of the journal that published the study to get their perspectives. They agreed to help me because they want health reporters to understand the pitfalls of promoting science, and how that effort can sometimes veer too far from a study’s actual findings. Continue reading