Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Embryology Of Spin

Yavchitz et al. looked at which factors correlated with the presence of "spin" in the reporting of medical randomized control trials. Spin is emphasizing the benefits of a treatment more than is appropriate on the basis of the data. They cooked up a multivariate regression with the explanatory variables of journal type, funding source, sample size, type of treatment (drug or other), results of the primary outcomes (all nonstatistically significant versus other), author of the press release, and the presence of “spin” in the abstract conclusion.

In their sample (N = 41), the only factor that correlated significantly with spin in the press release and news article was spin. Spin in the abstract conclusions of a study leads to a 5.6 (95% CI 2.8–11.1) times higher relative risk of there being spin in the press release and news reports. So, to the extent that we care about curbing vicious information cascades, it's essential for authors and editors to be conscientiousness about word choice and framing in the abstract.