As a person who’s worked in the field of public relations for decades, I can usually smell a spin a mile away. Take the classic Torches of Liberty parade in 1929 in which a crowd of women marched through Manhattan smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes. The spin? A Big Tobacco-funded women’s rights event that ‘proved’ women could be liberated enough to smoke in public – as long as they smoked Luckies.
Or the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ads, featuring plus-size models shilling Dove’s skin creams. The spin? We’re beautiful just the way we are (except, of course, for all that ugly cellulite that Dove products can help us get rid of!)
According to a study presented at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication in Vancouver, it seems Big Pharma has been equally busy doing its own creative spinning of its research results published in medical journals.
First, fair warning to my fellow members of the Canadian Public Relations Society who cringe at the word ‘spin’ – this posting is going to be overflowing with that four letter word.
For purposes of this study, reported on www.theheart.org, the word spin was defined by the authors as presenting or discussing medical research results in such a way as to convince the reader that an experimental treatment is beneficial, despite research results that don’t say that.
Here’s the story from Vancouver.
Researchers in France decided to assess the amount of positive spin in medical journal articles when study results being reported were actually unfavourable to the drug being studied.
For example, would researchers report negative results as accurately as they did positive ones? Here’s what they found:
- Overall, evidence of spin was present in 18% of study titles, rising to 29% in the results, 43% in the discussions, and 50% in the conclusions.
- More than 40% of papers had spin in at least two of the three sections of the main text.
- 33% of study abstracts contained a “high level” of spin, defined as no acknowledgement of the negative primary outcome, no expression of uncertainty, and no recommendation to study the issue further in another trial.
Dr. Isabelle Boutron of L’Université Paris Descartes, who presented the results of the study, says that sugar-coating negative randomized controlled trials does indeed happen – and far more often than you might believe. She said during her presentation:
“In randomized controlled trials, the data should speak for themselves.
“The problem, however, is that scientists are rarely neutral about the results of their trial. Consciously or unconsciously, they may try to portray their findings in a rosier light, often in the hopes of expediting publication, advancing their own careers, or even profiting financially.”
An initial hurdle, she added, is for journal editors to think more critically about the discussion and conclusion sections of articles.
“Sometimes the trials are very good and they have very straightforward ways of reporting their results and methods, but the interpretation of the results will be wrong. The journal editors need to take a tougher stand.”
Read the entire report here.
- When Medical Research Is Funded to Favour the Drug, Not the Facts
- Does The Medical Profession Need To Wean Itself From its “Pervasive Dependence” on Big Pharma Money?
- “We Never Imagined People Would Think of Osteopenia As a Disease”
- The Medicalization of Everyday Life
- Medical Miracle Breakthrough In The News? Not So Fast!
- New Desire Drug Claims That Sex Really IS All In Her Head
- The Business of Prostate Cancer: Putting Profit Before Patients
- How Did This Heart Drug Get Approved In the First Place?