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About that magic milk news release

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Can a new brand of chocolate milk speed recovery from concussions? That's what a University of Maryland press release claims, but if it's true, why won't the university cough up the study's data or even take questions about it? Andrew Holtz writes: "That’s just one of the questions piling up about research involving high school football players, concussions and a brand of chocolate milk." Also, Earle Holland offers some theories on what happened.

Inside the killer lettuce story

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Dan Nosowitz examines a widely-covered study that was portrayed in the media as concluding that growing lettuce and other vegetables produces more greenhouse gas emissions that meat. The headlines weren't true, Nosowitz writes: "The basic issue is the lack of communication — and often of understanding — between the scientists who do the research and the people who write the press releases, and a further problem of laziness from journalists who merely parrot the releases."

The unraveling of a cover story

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Fortune magazine made Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes a tech star with its 2014 feature on her company's finger-stick blood tests. Now, questions plague the company's claims, and the story's writer, Roger Parloff, offers a mea culpa: "As much as I’d like to say that Holmes lied to me, I don’t think she did. I do believe I was misled — intentionally — but I was also culpable, in that I failed to probe certain exasperatingly opaque answers that I repeatedly received."

How the media flubbed Kitty Hawk

The Wright Brothers cover

Steve Buttry quotes from historian David McCullough’s new book The Wright Brothers to show how easy it can be for journalists to miss history even when it is unfolding right in front of them: "After the Dec. 17, 1903, maiden flight of the Wright Flyer, the news coverage was, at least looking back more than a century later, embarrassing. Newspapers either whiffed on the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historic achievement entirely or got major facts wrong."

Dan Rather on science and the media

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The longtime CBS newsman discusses anti-science views in politics, and places some of the blame on journalists seeking balance: "In a TV news story over science, what if the charlatan in the video is more charismatic and camera-friendly than the person backed by the preponderance of science? That was the case in the infamous '60 Minutes' piece about a link between vaccines and autism, which featured a now thoroughly discredited British doctor with a smooth accent."

In defense of a medical news release

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A case examined by shows that even when a news release is hedged, the ensuing news stories can still be hyped. Kevin Lomangino compares a release and resulting article on resveratrol and Alzheimer’s: "Our reviewers praised the Georgetown University Medical Center release issued for the phase 2 safety study, calling it 'appropriately tempered and very informative' … but a Time magazine story about the study received low marks from our review team."

A fact-check of those e-cigarette stories

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Christie Aschwanden dissects the study behind last week's headlines about electronic cigarettes and the odds that their users will move on to regular cigarettes. What she finds is a sample size problem; 37.5% of e-cigarette users took up traditional smoking, but the raw count was just six of 16: "The media does the public no favors when it presents a single study (especially a small one like this) as gospel, rather than just a small addition to the amassing evidence."

The real reason women freeze in offices

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It's not their lower metabolic rates, Bethany Brookshire writes in a takedown of one of the most recent viral science stories. After consulting with experts in building design, Brookshire writes that metabolism is probably not a significant factor: "So who is keeping you so cold? Whoever sets the thermostat, not whoever designed the building … Some buildings overcool air to reduce humidity. Men stuffed into heavy suits may play a role, but psychology might as well."

In praise of a good press release

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Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview is never bashful in criticizing medical news coverage and press releases, so it's fitting that Schwitzer offers high praise for a BMJ release that included appropriate caveats about a study's conclusions: "Did that clarity — that emphasis on the fact that association (does not equal) causation — make a difference in subsequent news stories based on the study or on the news release? It appears that may be the case in this instance."

A sea-level story's sketchy origins

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It's not unusual for press coverage to get out in front of the peer-review process, and Scott K. Johnson explains how it happened with stories about climate scientist James Hansen's recent sea-level rise forecast: "The manuscript is certainly interesting, covers a lot of ground, and proposes some interesting leads to follow up on. But it’s not a game-changer as some news coverage seemed to imply. And as the formal peer-review plays out, it may change in important ways."