Beware the spin in research reporting

Go to the original source and read the full study for yourself. The actual findings are often far different from what the headlines and abstract report. Spin and bias exist in a high proportion of published studies of the outcomes and adverse side-effects of phase III clinical trials of breast cancer treatments, according to new research published in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology.

Spin and bias in published studies of breast cancer trials

…In the first study to investigate how accurately outcomes and side-effects are reported in breast cancer trials, researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and University of Toronto found that in a third of all trials that failed to show a statistically significant benefit for the treatment under investigation, the reports focused on other, less important outcomes in order to influence positively the interpretation of the results.

In two-thirds of the reports there was bias in the way adverse effects of the treatment were reported, with more serious side-effects (those with toxicities graded as III or IV) poorly reported. This was particularly the case in trials that showed a significant benefit for the treatment under investigation. Only 32% of articles gave details of the frequency of grade III or IV toxicities in the summary (known as the “abstract”)….

They found that 54 (33%) trials were reported as positive, based on secondary endpoints, despite not finding a statistically significant benefit in the primary endpoint. “These reports were biased and used spin in attempts to conceal that bias,” write the authors. They found that 58% of 92 trials that showed no benefit for patients from the experimental therapy (negative primary endpoint) used secondary endpoints to suggest benefit from the treatment….

The source of funding for trials (industry or academic) was not associated with bias or spin in the reporting of results and toxicities.

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2 responses to “Beware the spin in research reporting

  1. I am reminded of what Thomas A. Edison said when asked about his failures at developing a filament for an incandescent lamp. It went something like:
    Before I found one thing that would work, I had to learn about 1000 things that did not work.

  2. Westchester Bill

    The misuse of secondary endpoints was an important observation that morphed into a fad of sort. The basic problem is that evidence of primary effectiveness might beyond the power of the experiment. These matters are difficult.

    And one has to wonder why a one third rate of failure of clinical trials is bad? A 100% failure rate would be really bad, but so too a 0% rate. Why bother? I don’t know the optimum rate do you?

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