The research pitch always takes spin

Whatever the pitch, some biomedical researchers spin results, University of Sydney researchers warn

A new review of the research literature on spinning research results identifies styles and circumstances of spin and points to studies estimating 30 per cent of article abstracts and 22 per cent of body copy reporting trials with nonsignificant results that had “ ‘high’ ” levels of spin.

Kellia Chiu, Quinn Grundy and Lisa Bero from the university’s Charles Perkins Centre report on means and reasons for researchers to present their findings favourably and point to the damage that can be done.

“Examples of spin include misinterpreting statistically nonsignificant results as ‘showing an effect’ or the selective interpretation of results to emphasise significant secondary outcomes and minimising nonsignificant primary outcomes. These tactics could lead to subsequent research on clinical interventions for which there is a lack of supporting evidence. This, in turn, could lead to skewed systematic reviews and misinformed clinical practice guidelines or health policies. In addition, ‘promising’ scientific discoveries that are based upon conclusions with spin rather than data could stimulate financial investments in medical interventions that are later found to be ineffective or even harmful,” they write.

But in a finding that will shock all who assume they know about the research world of warnies the UniSyd team found; “industry sponsorship, which was the most common factor examined, was also not significantly associated with spin.”