Much like you learned in kindergarten, findings of medical studies get distorted as they go along the telephone chain. A journal article gets to a journalist who interprets it, highlighting eye-catching findings. Then an editor steps in and may jazz it up some more. By the time you hear the news, it’s distilled to soundbites.
This happens with nearly every study that’s reported to the public. Headache specialist Christina Peterson‘s comments on Migraines Linked With Brain Damage are a recent example of the need to take a close look at the news.
Evaluating medical studies is not as complicated as it may seem. Determining accuracy of the reporting is only one part. It’s also important to evaluate the study as a professional would. This includes asking whether the study has been replicated, how many participants were in the study and what was the time period for the study. See Cleveland Clinic’s Health Extra article for good tips on interpreting studies.
(According to the tips, journals usually offer press releases reviewed by a medical professional. I’ve never seen one, but press releases published by the institution that the lead author works for — usually a university — can be helpful.)