How often do you see an intriguing news story that spurs your interest? Maybe itís a possible cure for cancer or a breakthrough in nano-particle science. You read the story and come away thinking that a huge impact has just been made. In fact, while the information may be based on solid research, there may be more to the story that doesnít quite jibe with (or possibly refutes) the original premise. That is the basis of an interesting article in The Economist.

A neurobiologist at the University of Bordeaux, Dr. Francois Gonon, decided to look at some medical issues that received a lot of press coverage to see how the news media handled specific research papers and their claims on breakthroughs in cancer and ADHD.

The top ten papers that received the most attention got 223 news mentions. However, there were an additional 67 studies that examined the conclusions from those ten papers, and from all of that research only 57 articles appeared. In actuality, most of the news coverage focused on only two of the original papers.

The problem was that 80 percent of the papers in the study turned out to be either wrong or questionable. While readers may have been comforted with the initial news of great progress in these fields, they might not be so happy if they knew the whole story.

The article points out that, while original studies were published in high profile publications, many of the follow-up papers were hidden away in less prominent ones. With journalists on tight schedules and with limited time for research, one can hardly blame them for not catching the corrections. So the next time you hear about the latest cure for cancer, you might want to take it with a grain of salt.