PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Evaluating health news in a digital world. Quality assessment in science journalism and science communication.

Julia Serong  

Reliable information is one of the basic needs in the 21st century. The internet has become an important source of information about diseases and therapy options. Public relations practitioners and scientists have to face the fact, that press releases and abstracts of journal papers are now directly available to a lay public. However, many users are hardly able to differentiate between journalistic articles and the growing number of 'science news' in terms of press releases. Thus, a discussion on ethical norms and quality standards in science communication is necessary. The project, which ends in summer 2016, focuses on the question, whether a set of quality criteria that have been developed for medical journalism can be applied to corporate science news as well. In a retrospective study a sample of 30 news items and the corresponding press releases (n=27) published in 2013 have already been peer-reviewed by science journalists following a guideline of a multidimensional set of 12 quality criteria. In order to assess how the quality of information changes from the scientific paper via press releases to the news media we also tried to apply these criteria to the scientific papers and their abstracts. An ongoing monitoring of current medical science news will add about at least 50 news items and press releases respectively to this sample until spring 2016. A content analysis of the expert reviews gives insight into the applicability and operationalization of quality criteria within different functional contexts of the public sphere. Moreover, the findings lead to the question to what extent the set of criteria derived from evidence-based medicine and journalism may as well be applicable to evaluate the quality of popular science blogs on health news and similar formats, but also to help drawing the line between science and pseudoscience.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.