Scientists’ responsibilities in the public understanding of science – The case of neuroscience



This is what a recent article examining the neuroscience literature on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suggests (Gonon, Bezard and Boraud, 2010). The authors examined how neuroscience data were presented in scientific papers and media articles. Interestingly, they identified three types of misrepresentation in the scientific literature on ADHD.

Internal inconsistencies between results and the claimed conclusions


Fact omission


Extrapolating basic and pre-clinical findings to new therapeutic prospects


The social consequences of misrepresentations


It is likely that neuroscientists are not the only ones in the academic community who overstate their conclusions and downplay or make less visible the limits and relevance of their findings. Scientists are increasingly encouraged to promote their work to the media. In order to do so, they must have something to offer that is of significant interest to the public (www.phcris.org.au). In this context, it can be tempting to simplify the message or embellish the conclusions. Editors of scientific publications also bear responsibilities for the papers they accept to publish. “If they collectively reject sensationalism and clearly condemn data misrepresentation, we may expect rapid improvement” (Gonon, Bezard and Boraud, 2010). In short, it is the scientific community’s responsibility to acknowledge the risks of data misrepresentations and reflect on their potential social and public health consequences.

Should you want to learn more about the relationship between the scientific community and the media, you may have a look at our dossier Medical innovation and the media or our communication workshop entitled How to communicate the stakes of medical innovations to the public? (In French only).


Author :Myriam Hivon, Ph.D.

REFERENCES

Gonon F, Bezard E, Boraud T (2011) Misrepresentation of Neuroscience Data Might Give Rise to Misleading Conclusions in the Media: The Case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PLoS ONE 6(1): e14618. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014618


Primary Health Care research & Information Service. (2010). Engaging the Media: Promoting your work to the media. Fact Sheet. www.phcris.org.au.

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