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Aarhus to fight exaggerated science releases

Calls for ethical code to stop the exaggerated reporting of science results. University of Copenhagen has no formal ethical guideline but will watch Aarhus project closely, says UCPH communications

Researchers and communications staff at universities exaggerate more and more in abstracts of scientific research papers and in their press releases. Scientists and the communications department at Aarhus University, Denmark, are as a result working out a new set of ethical rules to regulate their releases of research results.

This is according to Danish news website

“We would like to make a code which should be used by all of our researchers. We have a responsibility for all of our researches to be correctly substantiated and communicated,” says Allan Flyvbjerg, Dean of the Health Faculty at Aarhus University.

University of Copenhagen: An informal review system

In order to secure credibility and transparency, Allan Flyvbjerg calls on other universities in Denmark to adopt an ethical code or guideline also.
According to Charlotte Autzen, senior executive advisor at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) communication department, “for the moment, we won’t make any changes to the informal review system that is currently in use,” she says.

“We don’t experience any problems with our informal review system, so we don’t want to put more resources into this issue. However, we think it is interesting what Aarhus University is doing and we will follow up closely on what they do next,” she added.

Aarhus University is the second largest university in Denmark. Photo: IK’s World Trip, Cc license

The University of Copenhagen’s informal review system addresses both the validity of the communicated research results and the possible conflicts of interest of researchers, according to Charlotte Autzen. Since 2008, research press releases about new findings are only based on published papers from peer-reviewed journals and not on preliminary findings or speculation, she explains.

UCPH: Not just a ‘press release’ problem

If possible, “the press release will link directly to the journal paper, so journalists easily can check the scientific text themselves,” says Charlotte Autzen of UCPH, adding that how the actual press release text turns out is a matter of collaboration between the scientist (who knows the research) and the press officer (who knows the news values of the press).

Charlotte Autzen recognizes the potential for exaggerations in scientific papers, as recent research has pointed out. But “this probably has more to do with competition among journals and scientists fighting to get their research published at all,” she says.

This problem will not be solved alone by introducing an ethical codex for press releases at university level, she argues.

Journalists can check up on conflicts of interest

As for researchers’ possible conflict of interest, she adds that journalists can check up on UCPH researchers in the PURE system (at UCPH this system is known as CURIS)
where all institutions have to report published research to the ministry.

There is more information on this in the fact box right.

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