More than a quarter of biomedical scientific papers use practices that distort the interpretation of results or mislead readers so that results are viewed more favourably, suggests a new study published in PLOS Biology.
Researchers performed a systematic review of 35 published academic studies that had previously analysed so-called 'spin' in biomedical scientific papers. They found spin is prevalent across a range of study designs, including trials, observational studies, diagnostic accuracy studies, and systematic reviews. The highest, but also greatest variability in the prevalence of spin was present in trials (median, 57% of main texts contained spin; range, 19%-100% across 16 articles).
A wide variety of strategies to spin results were identified including making inappropriate recommendations for clinical practice that were not supported by study results, making inappropriate claims about statistically non-significant findings, and attributing causality when that was not possible.
Study co-author Professor Lisa Bero said there is an urgent need for further research to “determine the institutional or cultural factors that could contribute to such a high prevalence of spin in scientific literature, and to better understand the potential impact of spin on research, clinical practice and policy.