Researchers publish their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals in a way that is aimed at other researchers rather than the public. The media play a vital role in allowing the public to understand scientific and clinical research, especially when it has the potential to benefit society, for example, by treating or curing disease. Journalists often get their stories from press releases put out by researchers, or their institutions, following a major breakthrough. This may be following the publication of findings in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal (for example, work published in prestigious journals such as Nature, Science or the Lancet).
These press releases help journalists understand the science. However, the language used in the press release, as well as the slant given by the journalist can both influence how the story is reported and its resulting headline. Researchers are often asked to predict how long it will take before treatments become available – even though this is virtually impossible to predict, especially when the research is still at quite an early stage. Figuring out the reality behind some of the headlines can sometimes be difficult, but it is often worth reading the same story from different sources, or finding a good source of information, such as a science magazine, which may have a more realistic version of the story.