Tag Archives: press releases

Press release reporting is irresponsible — especially in a pandemic

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

coronavirusI received a text from a friend this week with a link to an article about a new drug for COVID-19 that led to “rapid recovery” of “critically ill” patients with COVID-19. “Houston Methodist Hospital is making national headlines after doctors used a new drug to help treat critically ill COVID-19 patients,” the breathless lead began. The last paragraph included this similarly dramatic quote from the drug manufacturer’s CEO in a press release: “No other antiviral agent has demonstrated rapid recovery from viral infection and demonstrated laboratory inhibition of viral replication.”

Along with the article link, my friend had texted, “Reads like a press release.” Continue reading

Caveats about causality in medical studies linked to more accurate news coverage

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Jacob via Flickr

It’s a well-worn mantra: Correlation does not equal causation. But even if we know this, is it always accurately and responsibly reflected in our stories and headlines?

It can be simpler and more elegant to say “Vodka causes sexually transmitted infections” in a headline than “Vodka consumption associated with increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.” (Note: This is not a real headline or based on a real study.) But in this made-up example, it’s laughably obvious that vodka itself does not cause STDs. Continue reading

Controversy over blood pressure trial demonstrates danger of relying on press releases

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

When the headline on a news release begins with “landmark” and includes the words “lifesaving,” “greatly,” and “milestone,” a good health reporter’s Spidey sense should tingle.

That holds true even when the announcement comes from the National Institutes of Health. The NIH’s release about their Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) in September set so many red flags waving that they could have held a parade. Continue reading

Recent reporting relied on incomplete releases

We all know that press releases are, by definition, designed to highlight positive news. And that’s being generous. But a pair of rather skimpy releases issued by biopharma companies over the past few days takes the notion of spin to a new and troubling level.

In the first case, Medarex last weekend issued a release saying a Mayo Clinic study of two men found that its experimental prostate cancer drug had their tumors shrink dramatically. Oddly, as the Associated Press noted, there was no info on how many people participated in the trial, whether other patients improved or worsened, how long they had survived or whether the study is an early, midstage or late-stage trial. Moreover, the two men still had to undergo surgery to remove the remaining tumors. Just the same, Medarex stock popped more than 20 percent on the news.

A couple of days later, Chroma Therapeutics issued a release touting an alliance with GlaxoSmithKline to use its technology to discover and develop four compounds to treat inflammatory disease. The deal has the “potential” to generate more than $1 billion if all four programs are successful, but no other figures concerning milestone and option payments were mentioned. As The In Vivo Blog pointed out, that $1 billion is highly contingent on all sorts of hurdles being cleared. But how often does anything go according to plan? Nonetheless, the eye-popping $1 b figure was duly noted by various mainstream and trade media.

We asked Reuters‘ Ben Hirschler for his take on the Chroma story and he wrote us that reporting such announcements is a “perennial issue, because the smaller partner routinely wants to play up the maximum figure, while details of the terms are often not disclosed. We always stress the number is a potential payout that depends on success in development and payments could be years away. You could, as you say, argue such figures are spin … since it is unlikely the company will actually hit the jackpot and get the top payout. But … reporting the ”up to” figure (alongside the much smaller upfront element) can be useful for investors, because it gives an indication of how significant any successful drugs from a collaboration could be, if everything goes right.”

In these two cases, however, vital info was missing from the press releases, which made it virtually impossible to make useful comparisons. Meanwhile, the companies still succeeded in getting across their bottom-line messages and impressions. We’re not suggesting that such press releases should be ignored. But companies need to be held accountable for such omissions or journalists may find these gambits will become an accepted practice.

Wrestling with the FDA recall e-mail avalanche

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

NPR’s April Fulton recently blogged about a phenomenon familiar to anyone with a subscription to the FDA’s recall e-mail list, or their RSS feed, or their Twitter account: a late rush of random recall messages that would require a prohibitive amount of time to sort and research. fda-recallsFor example, in a two-minute span on June 15, @FDArecalls on Twitter buzzed with messages about multivitamin labels, fish, organic chocolate peanuts, white peppers and soy sprouts. Fulton also notes that many of the notices come out late in the day.

She proposes some sort of flagging or rating system to make it easier to figure out which stories are big deals and which aren’t. She may be on to something. The FDA could make these releases more accessible and useful for journalists and consumers. At the very least, it should be possible to explain the location and magnitude of the public health danger in a way that could be understood at a glance.

What other tips or tricks help you figure out which recalls are relevant to your readers? Do you have suggestions as to how the FDA could makes its releases more accessible or useful? Let us know.