Some abortion experts don't disclose university ties

Articles on smoking and gun control noted specialists' university affiliations about 90% of the time, but only 77% of the time with references to abortion.

A survey of academics quoted on three controversial topics – guns, cigarette use and abortion – found that university doctors and researchers often used their university affiliations with the first two, but there was a significant drop in listing university affiliation for the last topic, abortion.

Dr. Emily Godfrey, who specializes in family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, led a group that looked at articles published in top newspapers between 2015 and 2020. The survey found 41 abortion articles, 102 on gun control and 130 articles on smoking.

Articles regarding smoking and gun control had university affiliations 90% and 88% of the time, respectively, while articles on abortion listed university affiliation only 77% of the time, the study showed. The survey was published in late November in the Journal of Communication in Health Care.

Godfrey noted that was a significant drop, but added the study did not look into why the authors may have dropped the university affiliation from their titles. She surmised that the researchers or doctors may fear retaliation from those who do not approve of abortion as a part of reproductive health, or be pressured by university public relations staff to avoid the topic as too political. Further research would be needed to state this conclusively, both Godfrey and the study authors noted. 

But “lack of academic disclosure may paradoxically make these faculty appear less legitimate,” the study authors noted.

After the Dobbs decision earlier this year by the United States Supreme Court, the listing of university affiliations may drop even further, the study stated.

The study cited a 2022 Pew Research Center report showing medical researchers and scientists reflect the highest percent (29%) of Americans who elicited "a great deal of confidence" that they act in the best interests of the public. In comparison, the poll found that only 12% of religious leaders and 2% of elected officials garnered that status.

The UW Medicine study, which used the ProQuest database, included eight of the top 13 U.S. newspapers: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe For feasibility reasons, the study excluded magazines, trade journals, reports, blogs, podcasts, websites and social posts. Smaller newspapers were also excluded.

Weaknesses in this survey included using only articles from the largest newspapers. Also, none of the newspapers were located in Southern states. Lack of data regarding social media also limited the generalizations and conclusions in the study, the authors noted. They also believe that further study of smaller news outlets and social media is merited.

Abortion is one of the most common health care services in the United States with about 1 million women having an abortion in a given year. An estimated one in four women have had an abortion by age 45, according the The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, the study noted.

This work was supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation Grant 2027792. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Science Foundation.

Barbara Clements, 253-740-5043,

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