Interpretation of health news items reported with or without spin: Protocol for a prospective meta-analysis of 16 randomised controlled trials

Romana Haneef, Amélie Yavchitz, Philippe Ravaud, Gabriel Baron, Ivan Oranksy, Gary Schwitzer, Isabelle Boutron

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16 Scopus citations


Introduction We aim to compare the interpretation of health news items reported with or without spin. 'Spin' is defined as a misrepresentation of study results, regardless of motive (intentionally or unintentionally) that overemphasises the beneficial effects of the intervention and overstates safety compared with that shown by the results. Methods and analysis We have planned a series of 16 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to perform a prospective meta-analysis. We will select a sample of health news items reporting the results of four types of study designs, evaluating the effect of pharmacological treatment and containing the highest amount of spin in the headline and text. News items reporting four types of studies will be included: (1) preclinical studies; (2) phase I/II (non-randomised) trials; (3) RCTs and (4) observational studies. We will rewrite the selected news items and remove the spin. The original news and rewritten news will be appraised by four types of populations: (1) French-speaking patients; (2) French-speaking general public; (3) English-speaking patients and (4) English-speaking general public. Each RCT will explore the interpretation of news items reporting one of the four study designs by each type of population and will include a sample size of 300 participants. The primary outcome will be participants' interpretation of the benefit of treatment after reading the news items: (What do you think is the probability that treatment X would be beneficial to patients? (scale, 0 (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely)). This study will evaluate the impact of spin on the interpretation of health news reporting results of studies by patients and the general public. Ethics and dissemination This study has obtained ethics approval from the Institutional Review Board of the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM) (registration no: IRB00003888). The description of all the steps and the results of this prospective meta-analysis will be available online and will be disseminated as a published article. On the completion of this study, the results will be sent to all participants. PROSPERO registration number CRD42017058941.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere017425
JournalBMJ open
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Bibliographical note

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© 2017 Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article). All rights reserved. No commercial use is permitted unless otherwise expressly granted.


  • general public
  • health news
  • meta-analysis
  • patients
  • randomized controlled trials
  • spin


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