Wetenschap - 29 september 2011

Controversial press release comes from Resource

The press release everyone is talking about this week came from our own offices. Last year, the communications department published the Resource article about milk and heart disease as a press release.

melk_plons.jpg
melk_plons.jpg

Foto: .

That often happens. Our editors write scientific news items for the website and magazine, and once a week the scientific information department publishes some of those articles in the form of a press release.
Permission
The scientific information officers Jac Niessen and Bouke de Vos always ask the researchers for permission. After all, a researcher has to stand by the text in a press release whereas that is not so important in a Resource article.
The scientific articles generally make an impression in the media. For example, the Dutch news agency ANP picks up about one press release week.

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And now the milk article. There is considerable criticism of how the news was reported. Wakker Dier calls this university an advertising agency and one of the authors, Harvard professor Walter Willett, has disassociated himself from the press release. The question is: did we do anything wrong?
A journalistic article has a different status to a press release. The light-hearted headline 'Joris Driepinter was right after all' is fine for a journalistic report but not appropriate for a university press release.

Suspect
But the milk study raises more questions: the study was funded by the Dutch Dairy Association and the results were favourable to that same dairy industry. That was why we explicitly mentioned the funding organization at the time. The research itself, a meta-study, is sound and was published in the peer-reviewed journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It shows that milk slightly reduces the risk of a stroke. The effect is small, but our article says that too.
However there are also studies that conclude milk is not good for everything, and Harvard professor Walter Willett says that information should have been included in the press release. He has a point. The food industry in particular is full of contradictory results so just describing one study gives too restricted a picture. Food for thought.

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