Fracking Bad For Babies headlines are premature, study author says:

New work described by @bloombergview & others as showing proximity to fracking is bad for babies is not ready for prime time, says one of the authors, Michael Greenstone of MIT:  ”The newspaper articles describe preliminary results that we did not intend to share with press. We will release a full working paper as soon as we are finished with the analysis.” The work builds on an earlier study in the region that was discussed in depth on Dot Earth.image

Update 12:15 pm: Another study author, Janet Currie of Princeton, said this study is not even a “working paper” yet: “[W]e are not trying to publicize the paper ahead of peer review.  We have not put the paper out as a working paper and aren’t comfortable circulating it yet.”

I reached out to Ivan Oransky, who is the global editorial director of MedPage Today and blogs on the science publication process at Retraction Watch. He offered this note: 

"There are good reasons why reporters should wait until studies are peer-reviewed [before] writing about them. But doing so hands over control of what journalists cover to journals and other scientific institutions, in a perhaps-unintended but no less real effect of what has become known as the Ingelfinger Rule. It also reinforces the idea that peer review is perfect, which it ain’t. When you couple those issues with the insistence by many in the news media to feed the hype machine by depicting every new study as definitive and groundbreaking, you end up with useless coverage.

"I’m not crazy about the idea that scientists should somewhat arbitrarily decide when a finding is ready for public inspection. That’s particularly problematic in fields such as economics, in which researchers leave manuscripts as "working papers" for years. Once something is presented or posted online, it’s fair game. 

"What I’d prefer, instead of the gag order that some scientists would like to impose, is that reporters take the time — with scientists’ help — to understand where a given finding fits into the world of research. Has it been peer-reviewed? Is it the first such finding, or does it confirm others? I think it’s perfectly fine to report on research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, if reporters make it clear that the findings are quite preliminary and may not hold up. It also behooves reporters covering such unpublished research to seek outside comments from those not involved in the work. In observational studies such as the ones you often see in environmental research, there are almost always alternative explanations for the findings, that at least deserve an airing."

Update, 6:30 pm: An AP story earlier this year provides this overarching context on health and fracking:

“‘There’s a strong case that people in the U.S. are already leading longer lives as a consequence of the fracking revolution,’ said Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s because many power plants have stopped burning coal and switched to natural gas, which emits far less fine soot, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

“‘Obviously, that has to be counterbalanced against the local effects of the drilling,’ and that makes for a complicated decision, said Greenstone, formerly one of President Barack Obama’s chief economic advisers. Obama has expressed strong support for the natural gas drilling boom and has said it can be done safely.

Greenstone said more work needs to be done to confirm that Washington County residents were affected by natural gas activity and not by other factors, but he called the project an ‘important start.’”