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Did they bite?

May 3rd, 2005

Dr Petra

A couple of days ago, Reuters reported on a paper in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology, regarding the trial of Procter and Gamble’s Intrinsa patch.

As regular readers will know, this is the patch that was launched by the drug company in the press last year. Despite hyping up the media about the ‘nookie on the NHS’ sex wonder drug, the FDA decided there was no convincing evidence the patch had been fully evaluated and recommended further testing before considering approving it for public use.

Whilst Obstetrics and Gynaecology published the research with an editorial that invited caution about the Intrinsa study, it didn’t stop the story being launched by Reuters under the heading ‘Male Hormones May Help Women After Hysterectomy’.

I wondered in this blog a couple of days ago how many newspapers would bite at the story, and how many would do their homework and report the backplot to this case?

Well it seemed a number did bite, including China Daily, Hindustan Times, ABC News, and health sections of websites like Yahoo.

Did they do any checking? What do you think? Most simply lifted it from the newswire. A quick Internet search on ‘Intrinsa’ would throw up the controversy around the patch, but did anyone do that? Sadly, no.

Of course all the reports were keen to stress about this ‘new’ research, which is odd, given that Procter and Gamble had launched it at a press conference over a year ago. In fact, it’s a no-no in the academic world to promote your findings through the press before being published in a peer-reviewed journal. That is, unless Big Pharma funds your work, when it seems these rules need not apply.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on these daily papers that take their press releases in good faith, but it goes to show that if you do take a story without just a five-minute accuracy check, then you
a. get your facts wrong
b. miss an even bigger story (in this case, why has this research been allowed all this publicity and publication in a journal when the FDA haven’t approved it’s use?)
c. for one plucky journalist the chance to produce a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism – why has every other paper swallowed this story whole?

Busy journalists on hectic newsdesks should get this right, but medical websites most certainly should check their facts. Disappointingly Medline also picked up the Reuters story without question, and without any evaluation or explanation.

People reading their morning papers or visiting this medical advice site, may get the message ‘there’s a new sex drug out there to boost menopausal women’s sex drive’.

This message is wrong.

The truth is the drug’s not been approved for public use, further research is required, and it only marginally increases sexual activity.

If the media can’t get a simple sex story right, how many other stories are they getting wrong?

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