Misrepresentation and distortion of research in biomedical literature

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Mar 13;115(11):2613-2619. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1710755115.


Publication in peer-reviewed journals is an essential step in the scientific process. However, publication is not simply the reporting of facts arising from a straightforward analysis thereof. Authors have broad latitude when writing their reports and may be tempted to consciously or unconsciously "spin" their study findings. Spin has been defined as a specific intentional or unintentional reporting that fails to faithfully reflect the nature and range of findings and that could affect the impression the results produce in readers. This article, based on a literature review, reports the various practices of spin from misreporting by "beautification" of methods to misreporting by misinterpreting the results. It provides data on the prevalence of some forms of spin in specific fields and the possible effects of some types of spin on readers' interpretation and research dissemination. We also discuss why researchers would spin their reports and possible ways to avoid it.

Keywords: bias; detrimental research practice; misinterpretation; misreporting; misrepresentation.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Humans
  • Literature
  • Peer Review, Research / standards
  • Publications / standards*