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Looking back at Research the Headlines in 2019

by on 2019/12/30

2019 was another challenging year for evidence-based media reporting of research. Research the Headlines was set up in 2013 to examine how research is portrayed in the media, and to give the public helpful advice and tools when trying to get to the heart of a news story.

During 2019 we again hosted a ‘brain blog’ series, showcasing the work of students who have been “researching the headlines” as part of their undergraduate studies. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. They wrote informative posts about alcohol and dementia risk and intellectual engagement and ageing. Through different activities, we also help others develop the skills needed to become more critical consumers of both research and media reporting; for example, via our How to “Research the Headlines” series and our “Rewrite the Headlines”workshops and competition for primary school children.

Our writers also continued with our Talking Headlines series with an interview with Debbie Kennett. This series seeks to gain insights from experts who have had a range of experiences in relation to the media  and their work. We also had a post on science communication and policy making highlighting the work of our member organisation The Young Academy of Scotland and their involvement in a pairing scheme with MSPs involving shadowing their respective MSPs who then visit their institutions.

As usual we covered a wide range of topics! In keeping with current media focus we had several posts on climate issues. This included posts on pesticides that impair bird migration and extinction risk.  We also posted again about coverage that had arisen over early interventions in childhood disorders as we have done multiple times in the past. In most cases there was accurate reporting of the research but a lack of context of the relationship of the research to similar research could have distorted the inferences made. In others a sensationalist headline over-egged the conclusion that should have been drawn. Frequently we saw good examples of sound reporting such as use of references to NHS website information to describe a disorder.  We will continue with our range of activities in 2020 and look forward to continue working with early career researchers and offering them opportunities to develop their blogging skills!

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