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The Washington Post reprints university press releases without editing them

Somebody points me to this horrifying exposé by Paul Raeburn on a new series by the Washington Post where they reprint press releases as if they are actual news. And the gimmick is, the reason why it’s appearing on this blog, is that these are university press releases on science stories. What could possibly go wrong there?

After all, Steve Chaplin, a self-identified “science-writing PIO from an R1,” writes in a comment to Raeburn’s post:

We write about peer-reviewed research accepted for publication or published by the world’s leading scientific journals after that research has been determined to be legitimate. Repeatability of new research is a publication requisite.

I emphasized that last sentence myself because it was such a stunner. Do people really think that???

So I guess what he’s saying is, they don’t do press releases for articles from Psychological Science or the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. But I wonder how the profs in the psych dept at Chaplin’s university feel about being singled out like that???

To be serious for a moment, yes, we have a press office at Columbia. And, yes, I love it when they publicize my work. I have no problem with press releases. But it’s the job of a serious journalist to read the press release and use it in a story, not just to reprint it!

P.S. It seems that one of the editors of the Post’s science section is named Pooh Shapiro. How cool is that?


  1. Gordon Fox says:

    I wonder if impact factor is a measure of truthiness. We already know it measures importance.

  2. A.P. Salverda says:

    Andrew, you are too kind. Steve Chaplin wrote: “Repeatability of new research is a pubication [sic] requisite.”

  3. […] releases, following criticism by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker’s Paul Raeburn. As Andrew Gelman writes, “it’s the job of a serious journalist to read the press release and use it in a story, not […]

  4. Nony says:

    It’s an open secret (for several decades) that newspapers often print press releases with minimal actual reporting. Just as it’s an open secret for all for all of the 20th century that journalists can grab a quote and a score and pad out a sports story or other feature. These guys are pumping out a lot of volume.

  5. Nony says:

    What I like about the WSJ is that it often has actual analysis and generally a lot of reporting within each story. But that is really rare and is supported by much higher paid circulation than the norm. WaPo has a good niche in the inside baseball politics stuff. But other than that it’s like the LA Times within the rest of the paper. A cut below the NYT.

  6. […] discussion of media reminded Don of this Andrew Gelman post about how to get your university press release reprinted by The Washington Post. Don […]

  7. […] It’s even harder to get that research published in the peer-reviewed literature. And when reputable news outlets publish university press releases without even editing them, that does a disservice to everyone; the readers, the news outlet, and even the university […]

  8. […] recherche soit publiée dans la littérature revue par un comité de lecture. Et les agences de presse universitaires publient des communiqués de presse sans même les m…, ce qui fait du tort à tout le monde, les lecteurs, la publication de la nouvelle et […]

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