Tip number 3: A single study is not the ultimate truth
The latest research is by no means always the best. Therefore, before you choose a sharp angle based on a new result, you should always check what other research shows.
Always ask your sources if the study you are reporting on is consistent with prior research.

Always ask your sources if the study you are reporting on is consistent with prior research. Be extra critical if a single research result points in a completely different direction than other research in the field. (Illustration: Thøger Junker)

Always ask your sources if the study you are reporting on is consistent with prior research. Be extra critical if a single research result points in a completely different direction than other research in the field. (Illustration: Thøger Junker)

Key points

  • Ask scientists what other research shows when working on a news item about a study.

  • Be extra critical if other research points in the opposite direction.

  • Avoid cherry-picking and limiting reporting to studies­ that support your angle.

Research is not like cell phones or cars: the latest model is not necessarily the best. Old research can be better and more accurate than a new study.

Solid knowledge is built up over decades, and when you report on a new research result, it is therefore important that you are aware that it is only a small part of the total accumulation of knowledge. 

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.

If you present a single study as the ultimate truth, you risk making a mistake like the one Videnskab.dk made in 2008. We published a story about a new study under the headline: ‘Happy people live longer than unhappy people’.

Four months later, our readers most likely got the impression that the world had changed radically because now the headline told an entirely different story: ‘Happy people don’t live as long as unhappy people’.

This kind of thing doesn’t make anyone wiser, and it is not good for media credibility. But unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of media outlets writing that something is healthy one week and unhealthy the next.

Messages conflict because journalists zero in on a single new research result and forget to include what other research has shown.

In general, the more studies there are pointing to the same conclusion, the greater the likelihood that it is correct.

Check prior research

As a rule, scientists’ amassed, accumulated knowledge provides the best insights into how the world is put together. 

Therefore, always ask your sources if the study you are reporting on is consistent with prior research. Be extra critical if a single research result points in a completely different direction than other research in the field. 

Sometimes, though, the overall research points in different directions, and that can be confusing. 

In that case, it may be a good idea to ask authorities for recommendations in the area. These are typically based on an overall assessment of the available research. 

The same is true of publicly available reviews from independent, international research associations such as Cochrane, which specialises in health, and Campbell, which deals with pedagogy and social science. 

When checking out the rest of the research, you should be aware of the risk of focussing solely on your chosen angle and including only research results that back up your angle. 

Journalists are especially susceptible to this approach — known as cherry-picking — when using research sourced from influencers, interest groups, politicians and others who hand-pick studies that support their agenda but omit important studies that reach different conclusions.

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.

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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.

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