Ethics and Sensationalism in the Realm of Scientific and Medical Reporting

Jennifer Habermann, University of St. Thomas

Prior to July 17, 2002, the media released information on the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) hormone replacement therapy (HRT) trial which was formally published and released on July 17, 2002, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study analyzed the ethics, sensationalism, and implications of such reporting. A formal content analysis was conducted using 36 articles from the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Rochester Post-Bulletin, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and USA Today. The data from the content analysis revealed that there was no significant difference between the accuracy of the articles prematurely released by the press and the articles that proceeded the release of the information contained in the WHI study. Coding factual data revealed that 19.4% of the articles scored above average. The total coding of factual content was lowest in USA Today at 75 points (range 0-180), but the USA Today had the highest total coding of sources at 86.5 (range 0-120). Six females (ages 38-61) participated in a focus group and reported that factual content was most important. The coverage of this HRT trial was sensational. The issues to the public were compounded by the unethical premature release of information of the study results

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