Tip number 10: Choose your cases carefully
A case is a powerful tool and can make a far greater impression than decades of research, which speak against the case.
If you want to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings, it is a good idea to select case studies for your reporting that are in accord with the research.

If you want to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings, it is a good idea to select case studies for your reporting that are in accord with the research. (Illustration: Thøger Junker)

If you want to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings, it is a good idea to select case studies for your reporting that are in accord with the research. (Illustration: Thøger Junker)

Key points

  • People remember a case story far better than facts.

  • If you are reporting a case story that contradicts the majority of science-based findings, be extra thorough in your research, interviews and dissemination to avoid spreading misinformation.

Using a case study in your reporting is one of the most powerful tools for journalism, and it can make a far greater impression than decades of research that contradicts the case study. 

Research indicates that when presented with accurate facts plus a personal story that does not support those facts, people will remember the case study and form opinions based on that.

Scientists from Aarhus University, for example, have found that people have a more negative attitude towards social security claimants after seeing a feature about a lazy social security claimant who can’t be bothered to work.

The negative attitude endures even if the feature also contains factual information that states the majority of social security claimants would like to work.

Download the guide


This article is part of the guide 11 tips for journalists: How to avoid blunders when reporting on science. The guide is accessible in three formats: 

Online articles regarding each of the 11 tips.

The full guide of 11 tips as a PDF-file.

The 11 tips as a checklist, a one-pager.

A human story shape attitudes

People shape their attitudes based on the personal narrative of a case study regard­less of whether it represents the overall picture.

Therefore, if you want to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings, it is a good idea to select case studies for your reporting that are in accord with the research.

Of course, no one should impose a muzzle on information — not even case studies that contradict the research.

But if an interesting and non-representative case history lands on your desk, you as a journalist should be extra thorough, both when doing your research and in your interviews with the source.

Make it known if the case story is an anomaly that is not supported by scientific evidence.

Think critically: Could there be another explanation for the case study’s conclusion?

Consider why you want to report on a case study that contradicts the current science in the field and what the consequences of that reporting will be.

Will your story increase the risk of people’s opting out of vaccines or trying a questionable treatment? If so, should you reconsider writing the article?

The example of the HPV vaccine

In 2014–2015, case-based stories in the media led thousands of young women worldwide to opt out of a vaccine against the HPV virus, which can lead to cervical cancer.

In Denmark, TV 2 aired a documentary about 47 young women who believed they had become ill from the HPV vaccine. Their narratives were backed by a single scientist and a physician.

The story was in stark contrast to the massive, pooled research that unequivocally indicates that the vaccine is safe.

Nevertheless, rates of vaccination in Denmark fell from 79 percent to 46 percent the year after the documentary was released. Scientists fear the decline will cost lives in the long run.

Read more tips by clicking the blinking icons at the left in the graphic below.

About the Science Journalism Guide

This guide is for journalists and journalism students who are working on science and research news.

It provides 11 specific tips on how to avoid common pitfalls when covering science material.

The guide is written by journalists at the leading Danish popular science site Videnskab.dk.

It summarizes our many years of experience and the best solutions for communicating research and science critically and nuanced and with credibility.

Help us learn

The guide is based on our own experiences as journalists at Videnskab.dk, and we have received feedback and input from several talented scientists, communicators and journalism students.

It is important to emphasize that the guide sets out only general guidelines and rules of thumb.

No two stories are alike, and you will probably come across science stories where the guide is lacking or where it doesn’t make sense to follow all the tips. In other words, the 11 tips in the booklet are not set in stone.

If you have ideas or suggestions for how our guide — or our journalism at Videnskab.dk — can be improved, we would always like to hear from you. If you have questions, or if you are interested in a presentation on science journalism from Videnskab.dk, you are also welcome to contact us. You can write to us at redaktion@videnskab.dk.

The guide has been compiled by

Lise Brix, Ditte Svane-Knudsen, Anne Ringgaard, Thomas Hoffmann, Frederik Guy Hoff Sonne og Marie Barse.

Editing and layout: Jonas Salomonsen og Jon Mathorne.

Illustrations: Thøger Junker.

Translation: Stephanie Lammers-Clark. Proofread by Randy B. Hecht.

©Copyright and publisher: Videnskab.dk.

Thanks for help, input and feedback

Videnskab.dk has recieved economic support for our work with developing and sharing knowledge about science journalism from Den Fynske Bladfond, a foundation that supports free press in Denmark.

The following has provided valuable input and feedback:

Claus Emmeche (Associate Professor), Eske Willerslev (Professor), Felix Riede (Professor, AU), Gunver Lystbæk Vestergård (PhD in science journalism), Jesper Lesager Christensen (Journalism Student), Karin Frei (Professor), Kresten Roland Johansen (Lecturer, science journalism), Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen (Associate Professor,), Lasse Laustsen (Associate Professor), Mads Faurschou Knudsen (Associate Professor), Maja Horst (Professor), Mikkel Gerken (Professor), Oluf Danielsen (External Lecturer), Peter Hyldgård (Chairman, Danish Science Journalists), Simon Taarnskov Aabech (Journalism Student), Søren Kjørup (Philosopher, Emeritus), Andreas Søndergaard Petersen (Journalist, TjekDet) as well as journalism students at Roskilde University and Danish School of Media and Journalism.

Podcasten Brainstorm

Lyt til Videnskab.dk's podcast om hjernen, Brainstorm, herunder. Du kan også finde flere podcasts fra Videnskab.dk i din podcast-app under navnet 'Videnskab.dk Podcast'.


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Hej! Vi vil gerne fortælle dig lidt om os selv

Nu hvor du er nået helt herned på vores hjemmeside, er det vist på tide, at vi introducerer os.

Vi hedder Videnskab.dk, kom til verden i 2008 og er siden vokset til at blive Danmarks største videnskabsmedie med omkring en million brugere om måneden.

Vores uafhængige redaktion leverer dagligt gratis forskningsnyheder og andet prisvindende indhold, der med solidt afsæt i videnskabens verden forsøger at give dig aha-oplevelser og væbne dig mod misinformation.

Vores journalister fortæller historier om både kultur, astronomi, sundhed, klima, filosofi og al anden god videnskab indimellem - i form af artikler, podcasts, YouTube-videoer og indhold på sociale medier.

Vi stiller meget høje krav til, hvordan vi finder og laver vores historier. Vi har lavet et manifest med gode råd til at finde troværdig information, og vi modtog i 2021 en fornem pris for vores guide til god, kritisk videnskabsjournalistik.

Vores redaktion gør en dyd ud af at få uafhængige forskere til at bedømme betydningen af nye studier, og alle interviewede forskere citat- og faktatjekker vores artikler før publicering.

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