Abstract vs. full text inconsistencies in LBP reviews

Can we be sure that the message is the same?

This review found that 80% of low back pain (LBP) systematic review abstracts contained some form of spin, which was not associated with the type of conclusion.

More specifically, abstracts of non-Cochrane reviews showed only moderate to fair agreement with the full text. Cochrane reviews, on the contrary, showed substantial to almost perfect agreement with the full text.

The authors conclude that the abstracts of low back pain systematic reviews require improvement.

Overall, the findings suggested that Cochrane review abstracts contain less spin and are much more consistent with the full text than non-Cochrane review abstracts. Study quality ranged from high to critically low.

The authors therefore make three sets of recommendations:

  1. readers should aim to look beyond the abstract;
  2. editors and peer reviewers should enforce the use of checklists (e.g., PRISMA) to ensure the quality of the text;
  3. authors should write the abstract only after the full text is finished and focus on making it an accurate representation of what was found.

> From: Nascimento et al., J Orthop Sports Phys Ther (2019) (Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Click here for the online summary.

Expert opinion

“Sixty percent of the time it works… every time” - or is it 80% after all? It is striking that such a high number of the abstracts of LBP systematic reviews, which are at the top of the scientific evidence pyramid, are not an accurate representation of the review’s actual findings.

On the bright side, it can be seen as one more incentive to maintain a critical perspective in the face of any presented evidence and to always try to not just skim through the abstract and draw immediate conclusions. As hard as it may be - whether it’s because of perceived lack of time or insufficient research skills - this review shows us the importance of making that extra effort.

Finally, it would be interesting to find why spin and inconsistencies were present in the abstracts: is it lack of writing skills by the authors, or purposely putting the shinier results on the big print and the real findings on the small print? Remember: “There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics”

Signup for our weekly or monthly newsletter and get notified on updates on the themes you're interested in:

Please enable the javascript to submit this form

Anatomy & Physiotherapy is a joint venture
between SoPhy & Sharing Science

Summaries on Physiotherapy B.V.
Berkenweg 7
Postbus 1161
3800 BD Amersfoort
The Netherlands

Chamber of commerce: 74973738
Bank: NL72ABNA0849809959
V.A.T. number: NL860093530B01

Sharing Science
Rijksweg Zuid 99
6134 AA Sittard
The Netherlands
Chamber of Commerce: 58306862