Scandals and media reports on dubious medical stories can harm the donations made to medical research, said a report in the British Medical Journal.
Media reporting of the UK organ retention controversies was associated with a fall in donations for ethically approved scientific research, finds a study in latest BMJ.
This analysis shows how media scandals may affect scientific research, even when the research is not directly linked to the scandal.
The authors examined the relation between newspaper reports on the use of children's tissue for research purposes and donations to a UK tumor bank from 1998 to 2004.
Both newspaper coverage and tissue registrations varied greatly during the study period.
However in late 1999, with the breaking of the organ retention story, coverage increased dramatically. This was associated with a significant fall in registrations of samples with the tumor bank, showing how the controversies may have affected unrelated areas of use of human materials.
Newspaper reports blurred the boundaries between organ retention and donations from living children with appropriate consent and ethical approval, say the authors. "During the height of the controversy, press reports suggested that the only proper response to any use of children's tissue was skepticism and questioning of professional motives."
Anecdotal experience also suggests that medical staff may have been deterred from asking for donations during the scandal, they add.
Although registrations began to recover towards the end of the study period, when medical sources attempted to restore public confidence and the scandal began to wane, these findings show that media reporting of science can have important implications for those who conduct and regulate science, they conclude.