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Case study: a hyped press release

This situational case study is designed to aid researchers to reflect on situations that would pose challenges to research ethics and integrity.

Jack is reaching the end of his PhD studies and has had a paper accepted by a well-regarded journal. His supervisor has notified the university press office about it, as he’d like to get as much exposure and press coverage for the study as possible. His grant is coming up for renewal soon, and this might well help his chances of success. The media attention will also help with his current application for promotion.

The press office prepares a press release and sends it to Jack’s supervisor for approval. The supervisor is happy with it and passes it on to Jack so he can check that all the details are correct. Jack reads the press release, and despite feeling very excited at the prospect of his paper receiving media attention, he has a few concerns. The importance of the work and its potential benefits and applications seem to have been very much exaggerated, and some suppositions reported as actual findings.

Jack realises that press releases need to catch people’s attention and promote research findings in an accessible way, so they can be easily understood by non-specialists. He’s worried, though, that in the process of trying to achieve this the press office has misrepresented the work.

His concern is amplified because the study is on a fairly controversial topic and may attract the wrong kind of media attention if promoted inappropriately. Jack realises he’s very inexperienced in media matters and so is not sure what to do.

Questions for discussion

  1. What should Jack do? Should he let the press release go, or try to get it altered? How would he go about doing that?
  2. What could the effects of hyping or inaccurately reporting research be in various disciplines?
  3. How can early-career researchers gain experience of press releases and media matters?

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