Best practice guidelines for reporting on science

Developed in consultation with scientists, science reporters, editors and sub-editors, these guidelines are intended for use by newsrooms and general reporters as a checklist to help ensure the accurate reporting of science and health stories.

Source

State the source of the story – e.g. interview, conference, journal article, a survey from a charity or trade body, etc. – ideally with enough information for readers to look it up or a web link.

Type of study

Specify the size and nature of the study – e.g. who/what were the subjects, how long did it last, what was tested or was it an observation? If space, mention the major limitations.

Cause and effect

When reporting a link between two things, indicate whether or not there is evidence that one causes the other.

Research time-frame

Give a sense of the stage of the research – e.g. cells in a laboratory or trials in humans – and a realistic time-frame for any new treatment or technology.

Risk

On health risks, include the absolute risk whenever it is available in the press release or the research paper – i.e. if ’cupcakes double cancer risk’ state the outright risk of that cancer, with and without cupcakes.

Context

Try to frame a new finding in the context of other evidence – especially on a story with public health implications, e.g. does it reinforce or conflict with previous studies? If it attracts serious scientific concerns, they should not be ignored.

Hype

Be wary of scientists and press releases over-claiming for studies – if there is space, quote both the researchers themselves and external sources with appropriate expertise.

Speculation

Distinguish between findings and interpretation or extrapolation – don’t suggest health advice if none has been offered.

Emotional impact

Remember patients – don’t call something a ’cure’ that is not a cure.

Misleading headlines

Headlines should not mislead the reader about a story’s contents and quotation marks should not be used to dress up overstatement.

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