When early research is presented as finished research, we are delusional.
Knowledge is Aftenposten’s commitment to research and science, where researchers and professionals from all over the country contribute articles.
“Researchers have succeeded in producing hormone-free contraceptives for women,” I was on NRK. not recently. Good news for women’s health, I thought. It’s been a long time since the research managed to bring out something new on the contraceptive front. But don’t run to the pharmacy!
A little later in the article, it appears that there is no new birth control method for women. It is true that American researchers have investigated a new drug, but it has only been tested in sheep.
Only in two years will human testing begin, well, if the sheep don’t get pregnant in the meantime.
Overly optimistic advertising
NRK is not the only medium that covers research at a very early stage and gives the impression that new drugs or treatments are already available.
VG reported that Researchers have developed a new method that can alleviate pain in chronically ill patients. It is also a sensation. VG requires more reservations than NRK, but the impression is that the new method is ready for use. Unfortunately, this only applies to chronically ill mice.
An American researcher, James Heathers, has addressed the problem of the overly optimistic coverage of the research. He tweets Media cases on health research, where the results are based on experiments with mice without clarification.
Examples are many, also from larger and reputable media.
Long road from mouse to human
Although mice and humans share more than 90 percent of genes, that does not mean that we are the same. After all, 75 million years ago we were the same species. If all the positive results in mice in health research had been transferable to humans, I believe that cancer, Alzheimer’s, allergies and obesity would have been eradicated long ago.
There are many reasons that mice, rats, and sheep are used in medical research. Animals are the hardest hit by humans when trying new drugs and treatments. It is unethical to test drugs on patients without knowing the effects and side effects. Mice have less ethical protection and we alone are enough to be useful.
The exaggerated results of the investigation weaken trust in both the investigation and journalism. Worst of all, they make false promises to patients.
The road from the study of the mouse to human medicine is a long one. It takes many years for a researcher to get a promising result in the laboratory and in the mouse cage until human testing is completed and the drug is approved. If it goes that far.
Animal studies provide important information for researchers, but the vast majority never turn into a new drug or treatment.
The responsibility of the press
Of course, there is occasional new research in animals with results that are very promising for human health. And of course the media should mention them, so do we at forskning.no. So we have a responsibility to tell you right away that these are animals, that there are preliminary results, and that the further road is very long.
At best, it’s inaccurate journalism to omit or downplay that good results apply to mice, rats, sheep, or zebrafish, and not humans. But researchers also contribute to deception, often with the help of communicators, when they inflate their own results. It is not always easy for a journalist to see through bragging rights.
Press releases talk about breakthroughs, riddles solved, and new drugs. The attention is good for universities, more funding for research and for media readers.
But the inflated results of the investigation weaken trust in both the investigation and journalism. Worst of all, they make false promises to patients.