Those people who read a particular news story in the Times last week and then went on to read it on BBC News online, could be forgiven for being rather confused. For the story in question - on the safety of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) - was reported in such a different fashion in each publication, that the message in one was almost the exact opposite of the message in the other.
The Times headline, which read 'Sperm injection technique triples risk of gene defect', highlighted the increased incidence in ICSI children of a condition called hypospadias, which affects the penis. Meanwhile, the BBC news article, entitled 'Sperm injection treatment is 'safe'', concentrated on ICSI's favourable record on congenital conditions compared with IVF and natural conceptions. Strictly speaking, both articles were correct, yet anyone who read the Times story is likely to have a distorted view of the scientific issues. As a result, many parents of the 2500 ICSI babies born in the UK each year could now be worrying unnecessarily about the health of their child.
All this no doubt goes to show just how difficult it is to communicate detailed scientific information in a short news article, particularly when the journalist isn't spending as much time as he or she should on researching the story and the sub-editor is more concerned with an eye-catching headline than an accurate distillation of the story. These are well-rehearsed complaints about science and health journalism, but the answers still seem to elude us. Your views and experiences on this issue would be gratefully received.