“Spin” Common in Study Coverage
Putting an overly positive “spin” on study results starts with the summary of findings in a study’s abstract and escalates with press releases and news stories, according to an analysis of coverage given 70 medical studies. Writing in PLoS Medicine, French researchers concluded, “Spin can distort the transposition of research into clinical practice and, when reproduced in the mass media, it can give patients unrealistic expectations about new treatments.” They found 40% of abstracts put a positive spin on study findings, emphasizing beneficial effects more than warranted, as did 47% of related press releases and 51% of news articles. The most common spin in abstract conclusions was failure to acknowledge when outcomes were not statistically significant. Studies most prone to spin in PR and news coverage appeared in smaller or specialty journals rather than general ones and had a smaller sample size. Those “spun” in abstracts were in turn more likely to be given overly positive play in press releases and media coverage.