Misrepresentation of neuroscience data might give rise to misleading conclusions in the media: the case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
PLoS ONE. 2011-01-31; 6(1): e14618
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1. PLoS One. 2011 Jan 31;6(1):e14618. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014618.
Misrepresentation of neuroscience data might give rise to misleading conclusions
in the media: the case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Gonon F(1), Bezard E, Boraud T.
(1)Institut des Maladies Neurodégénératives, University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux,
BACKGROUND: There is often a huge gap between neurobiological facts and firm
conclusions stated by the media. Data misrepresentation in the conclusions and
summaries of neuroscience articles might contribute to this gap.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using the case of attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), we identified three types of misrepresentation. The first relies
on prominent inconsistencies between results and claimed conclusions and was
observed in two scientific reports dealing with ADHD. Only one out of the 61
media articles echoing both scientific reports adequately described the results
and, thus questioned the claimed conclusion. The second type of misrepresentation
consists in putting a firm conclusion in the summary while raw data that strongly
limit the claim are only given in the results section. To quantify this
misrepresentation we analyzed the summaries of all articles asserting that
polymorphisms of the gene coding for the D4 dopaminergic receptor are associated
with ADHD. Only 25 summaries out of 159 also mentioned that this association
confers a small risk. This misrepresentation is also observed in most media
articles reporting on ADHD and the D4 gene. The third misrepresentation consists
in extrapolating basic and pre-clinical findings to new therapeutic prospects in
inappropriate ways. Indeed, analysis of all ADHD-related studies in mice showed
that 23% of the conclusions were overstated. The frequency of this overstatement
was positively related with the impact factor of the journal.
CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: Data misrepresentations are frequent in the scientific
literature dealing with ADHD and may contribute to the appearance of misleading
conclusions in the media. In synergy with citation distortions and publication
biases they influence social representations and bias the scientific evidence in
favor of the view that ADHD is primarily caused by biological factors. We discuss
the social consequences and the causes of data misrepresentations and suggest a
few corrective actions.
PMID: 21297951 [Indexed for MEDLINE]