Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Interpretation of health news items reported with or without spin: protocol for a prospective meta-analysis of 16 randomised controlled trials
  1. Romana Haneef1,2,3,
  2. Amélie Yavchitz1,3,4,
  3. Philippe Ravaud1,2,3,4,5,
  4. Gabriel Baron3,
  5. Ivan Oranksy6,
  6. Gary Schwitzer7,
  7. Isabelle Boutron1,2,3,4
  1. 1 METHODS team, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Sorbonne Paris Cité Center (CRESS), UMR 1153, INSERM, Paris, France
  2. 2 Faculté de Médecine, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris Descartes University, Paris, France
  3. 3 Centre d'Épidémiologie Clinique, AP-HP (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris), Hôpital Hôtel Dieu, Paris, France
  4. 4 Cochrane France, Cochrane, Paris, France
  5. 5 Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, New York, USA
  6. 6 Arthur Carter Journalism Institute, New York University, New York, USA
  7. 7 School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Isabelle Boutron; isabelle.boutron{at}


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.

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

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

View Full Text

Statistics from


  • Contributors RH: Helped with conception of study design, selecting news items, rewriting news items and wrote the draft of the protocol. AY: Helped with validation of rewritten news items and French translation of selected news items. PR: Conception of study design. GB: Helped in writing the statistical analysis. IO: Helped with survey questionnaire and validation of rewritten news items. GS: Helped with survey questionnaire. IB: Conception of study design, validating rewritten news items and helped writing the draft of the protocol. All authors read and approved the final protocol.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval This study obtained ethics approval from the Institutional Review board of INSERM (Registration No: IRB0003888).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This article is the protocol of a prospective meta-analysis. The authors plan to report transparently all the planned trials and will provide open access to all extracted data for each trial.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Linked Articles