By Jill Shuman, MS, Managing Editor, Hayes News Service
We’ve written before on this blog about errors found in the abstracts of papers published in biomedical journals and the “spin” techniques that authors sometimes use in both abstracts and the full manuscripts. Yet another study released on September 12, 2012, provides more ammunition for our concerns about the accuracy of the abstracts of scientific papers and how the media reports on these studies.
The authors of Misrepresentation of Randomized Controlled Trials in Press Releases and News Coverage: A Cohort Study identified 70 press releases that described the results from two-arm, randomized controlled trials. They then identified 41 news items associated with these press releases and examined the press releases, the news items, and the abstracts of the scientific articles for “spin,” defined as specific intentional or unintentional reporting strategies that emphasized the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment. The researchers report that nearly 50% of the 70 press releases, as well as the conclusions from the studies’ abstracts, contained “spin.” More importantly, the spin found in the press releases and media coverage was linked to the spin found in the conclusion section of the abstracts.
Why should we be concerned? Many medical journalists throughout the country typically read just the abstracts or the associated press release, so the spin gets reported over and over. This can impact clinician impression and patient outcomes. As the managing editor of the Hayes News Service, I’d like to reassure you that our news reports are never based on just the abstracts. We personally read every paper that gets included in the News Service so as to provide critical and thoughtful commentary and an unbiased, evidence-based critical look at the study. It’s a key piece of our core mission to provide our clients with professional excellence and integrity.