The annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) invariably attracts a lot of interest from the media. In recent years, ESHRE has welcomed the press to its conference with open arms, providing a wealth of press releases, briefings and opportunities to quiz the scientists reporting their findings. But despite efforts to guide journalists towards what it deems the significant stories, the occasional ‘scare’ stories or findings reported by scientists working outside the ‘mainstream’ of the field still slip through the net. Last year, it was ‘eggs from fetuses’ for infertility treatment, which the vast majority of IVF scientists do not regard as a solution to the shortage of egg donors Viagra-Las-Vegas.
This year, things also got off to a bad start, when the Sunday Times published details of a study linking mobile phone use to male infertility. ESHRE had deliberately not selected the presentation as one suitable for a press release, since the findings are preliminary, and the evidence weak. But this did not deter the Sunday Times journalist hungry for a fertility scare story, who threw in another preliminary study on Viagra use, just for good measure. All this happened before any of the other newspaper reporters, abiding by the embargoes set by ESHRE, even put pen to paper.
Some have called for the media to be banned from conferences on human reproduction (see article by Vivienne Parry in Recommends), but even this drastic measure would not have prevented the mobile phone fiasco: the story was triggered by the lead scientist himself, who has remained strangely elusive since.
It remains to be seen how other stories from the meeting will fare in the media this week, but stories on a new way to test embryos for genetic diseases, the impact of a high protein diet on conception, the experiences of couples opting for embryo donation, and a call for a relaxing of the German rules governing embryo testing are just some of the real stories coming out of the conference. You can read all about these and other stories from the ESHRE conference every day on the BioNews website.