Earlier this week I was following a story about the development of a blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage. The announcement of the test, developed by a team at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J., garnered quite a bit of attention in the world of medical news.

But as I read multiple news articles regarding this ostensibly groundbreaking development, there was something obvious missing from all of them: Any form of data backing up the validity of the test.

Now, this is the part where I have to make the disclaimer that we are working with a company who is also currently developing a blood test to detect pre-clinical Alzheimer’s. But because of that, I’ve learned more about blood biomarkers, amyloid plaques and tau proteins than the average bear.

Guess what? A lot of other people know those things too.

And that is where fake publicity for the sake of a few headlines can get you into trouble – especially in the Internet age. Too many people have way too much time and access to way too much data.

Sure enough, it took less than a week for the story to be called into question by Health News Review for lacking any kind of statistical evidence to bolster their claim. Their conclusion was way better than anything I could have written:

Those who communicate research results about devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s should be prepared to present data to help readers assess the scope of the advances that are announced. This news release failed to deliver any such data. Worse, it catapulted beyond Alzheimer’s to say that the blood test being researched had shown promise in Parkinson’s, MS and breast cancer – without anything to back that up.

We have been down this road so many times in the past – with news releases or news stories claiming an imminent test for Alzheimer’s disease. We – and we think the general public – become numb to the news. And that is unfortunate.

– Health News Review

Ouch. Someone at Rowan University has got to be feeling the burn right about now…

So here are the PR lessons learned:

  • If you’re going to put out a news release or make a public announcement, it darn well better be newsworthy. You might be able to get some play out of it in the short-term, but eventually folks will figure it out, your credibility will be shot and the chances of you getting anyone’s attention for something really newsworthy are toast.
  • If you’re going to put out a news release or make a public announcement about something that is based on statistics, data or research, you darn well better make that report available for inspection. And this is the part where I almost feel sorry for the researchers – they may very well have that data. But if they did, it wasn’t made available or included in the story. And if that’s the case it’s a tough lesson learned – because you only get one shot at making the news.