Inattentive journalists, and no deficit of hype

Without having read all the relevant journal papers, I shall not risk commenting on the detail of a much-reported scientific study which examines genetic differences in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nor will I respond to the substance (if any) of pop psychologist Oliver James‘ on-air comments, half-heard on the wireless this morning as I was attending to other stuff.

However, on one thing at least James is quite right: the new Lancet paper by Williams et al. was hyped, initially by the journal through its use of the embargo system. It was clear from the start that the Lancet study had enormous news value, and it’s therefore no wonder that the mainstream media today is awash with reports of it, the quality of which varies considerably.

In no way am I excusing journalists who swallow press releases whole; they should do their job properly, and cast inquisitive, critical eyes over all information that passes through their inboxes. But I’m afraid that hype and reaction is the way the science media works today, and much of the blame lies with the gamekeepers: journal publishers and research institutes from whom the information originates, and who keep a very tight control over it.

See also Anthony Cox.