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Bad news: how the media reported on an observational study about cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19
  1. Camilla Alderighi1,2,
  2. Raffaele Rasoini1,2,
  3. Rebecca De Fiore2,3,
  4. Fabio Ambrosino2,3,
  5. Steven Woloshin1,4
  1. 1Lisa Schwartz Foundation for Truth in Medicine, Norwich, Vermont, USA
  2. 2Alessandro Liberati Association - Cochrane Affiliate Centre, Potenza, Italy
  3. 3Pensiero Scientifico Editore s.r.l, Roma, Italy
  4. 4Center for Medicine and the Media, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Dartmouth University, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Camilla Alderighi, Lisa Schwartz Foundation for Truth in Medicine, Norwich, Vermont, USA; camilla.alderighi{at}gmail.com

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Medical research gets plenty of media attention. Unfortunately, the attention is often problematic, frequently failing to provide readers with information needed to understand findings or decide whether to believe them.1 Unless journalists highlight study cautions and limitations, avoid spin2 and overinterpretation of findings, the public may draw erroneous conclusions about the reliability and actionability of the research. Coverage of observational research may be especially challenging given inherent difficulty in inferring causation, a limitation that is rarely mentioned in medical journals articles or corresponding news.3 We used news coverage of a retrospective cohort study, published in Nature Medicine in 2022,4 as a case study to assess news reporting quality. The index study used national data from US Department of Veteran Affairs to characterise the post-acute cardiovascular manifestations of COVID-19. We chose this study because of its potential public health impact (ie, reporting increased cardiovascular diseases after even mild COVID-19 infection) and its enormous media attention: one of the highest Altmetric scores ever (>20 k, coverage in over 600 news outlets and 40 000 tweets). Our study supplements a previous analysis limited to Italian news.5

To assess news quality, we derived a coding scheme (online supplemental appendix 1) from published quality measures developed to capture proper reporting of observational research6 7: the need to refrain from inappropriate causal inferences and unsupported …

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to conception, planning, design and conduct; acquisition, analysis and interpretation of data; drafting of the manuscript; critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content; and administrative, technical or material support and had full access to all the data in the study. CA, FA, RDF and RR: contributed to statistical analysis and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. CA and RR contributed equally to the creation of this manuscript; the order of their authorship is entirely arbitrary. CA, RR and SW: contributed to supervision.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.