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Estelle MALLET-DUMAS

Recherche biomédicale et journalisme en situation d'incertitude. Validité des résultats de la recherche biomédicale et couverture médiatique

novembre 2017 Directeur(s) de thèse : Dr Andy Smith (directeur de recherche au centre Emile Durkheim à Pessac et Dr François Gonon (IMN) Résumé de thèse

Science’s reproducibility crisis is largely discussed in scientific journals editorials and most scientists are familiar with the problem. But journalists and therefore the public do not seem to be aware of the lack of reliability of a significant part of biomedical research.

This lack of reproducibility is to be expected: knowledge production is an incremental process and initial results are uncertain per se. Here we studied how the media presented this uncertainty when dealing with biomedical findings. We created a large database of biomedical studies. We assessed the validity of initial studies and showed that more than 60% were subsequently invalidated. We demonstrated that the press preferentially covered those initial results and scarcely mentioned their invalidation. Moreover, journalists do not seem to take into account the uncertainty of initial results: newspaper rarely specified that the results needed validation. Our survey of 21 journalists revealed that most of them were not aware of the lack of reproducibility of initial results.

Here we discuss the influence of extra-scientific factors on the production of scientific knowledge. We think that the scientific assessment process based on the number of paper published in high impact factor journals combined with the scientific institutions’ orientation towards the media might undermine the reliability of scientific results, in academic publications as well as in the media. Indeed, journalists’ working conditions are deteriorating and most do not seem to properly grasp how scientific facts are produced. This might be damaging for public trust in biomedical research and the debate about health-related issues.

Keywords: Reproducibility – Biomedical Research – Uncertainty – Journalists – science studies – science communication

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