Peer-reviewed articles and public health. The mad cow affair in italian newspapers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context. - It has been suggested that early announcements of research works to be published in peer-reviewed journals may diminish newsworthiness of scientific articles, but this issue has not been widely studied. Objective. - To analyze the impact on the news media, in terms of volume and prominence of coverage, of a scientific article published in peer-reviewed journals about issues with relevance to public health compared with the impact of preliminary release of information on the same issue. Design. - Analysis of press coverage of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in the 7 newspapers with the widest circulation in Italy, between March 20, 1996, when the British secretary of state for health announced the identification of 10 cases of a new-variant CJD, described April 6, 1996, in The Lancet, and May 10, 1996. Related newspaper articles were identified by hand search. Main Outcome Measures. - Numbers of newspaper articles published before and after publication of the Lancet article. Results. - We collected 535 articles, of which 62 (11.6%) appeared on the front page. The number of articles published daily peaked on March 26 with 48 items and 1 article on the front page of all the newspapers. A total of 386 (72%) of the 635 articles and 56 (88.7%) of the 62 published on the front page were published in the first 2 weeks of the study period, before the Lancet publication. Conclusions. - Our analysis suggests that, in the case of issues of public health importance, when peer- reviewed research is published after a health risk is disclosed to the public, its impact in the media is small. Coordination between news release by public health authorities and publication by peer-reviewed journals may improve the quality of public information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-294
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of the American Medical Association
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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