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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Stem Cell Research in the Media

 In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "If the science were not confusing enough, its coverage in the mass media has added another layer of murk.  News reports hype tentative findings and weak correlations as “breakthroughs” in the quest for autism answers."

At Stem Cell Reviews and Reports, Kimberly Sharpe, Nina Di Pietro and Judy Illes have an article titled "In the Know and in the News: How Science and the Media Communicate About Stem Cells, Autism and Cerebral Palsy."  The abstract:
Stem cell research has generated considerable attention for its potential to remediate many disorders of the central nervous system including neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and cerebral palsy (CP) that place a high burden on individual children, families and society. Here we characterized messaging about the use of stem cells for ASD and CP in news media articles and concurrent dissemination of discoveries through conventional science discourse. We searched LexisNexis and Canadian Newsstand for news articles from the US, UK, Canada and Australia in the period between 2000 and 2014, and PubMed for peer reviewed articles for the same 10 years. Using in-depth content analysis methods, we found less cautionary messaging about stem cells for ASD and CP in the resulting sample of 73 media articles than in the sample of 87 science papers, and a privileging of benefits over risk. News media also present stem cells as ready for clinical application to treat these neurodevelopmental disorders, even while the science literature calls for further research. Investigative news reports that explicitly quote researchers, however, provide the most accurate information to actual science news. The hope, hype, and promise of stem cell interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders, combined with the extreme vulnerability of these children and their families, creates a perfect storm in which journalists and stem cell scientists must commit to a continued, if not even more robust, partnership to promote balanced and accurate messaging.