Doctor: Romana Haneef

Title: Dissemination and communication of clinical research evaluating treatments in the media

Supervisor: Isabelle Boutron

Doctoral school: ED 393 Epidemiology and Biomedical Information Sciences, Université Paris Cité

Date of thesis defense: 18/10/2017

Jury: François Gonon, François Alla, Florence Tubach, Philippe Amiel, Joëlle Le Marec, Isabelle Boutron


Mass media and social networks are important sources of disseminating and communicating clinical research. The term “spin” is used when the presentation and interpretation of the results of a study is distorted by the authors intentionally or unintentionally. Spins exaggerate the beneficial effects of interventions and underestimate adverse effects.

The main objectives of this PhD were (I) to assess the prevalence of spin in health news, as well as identify and classify different strategies of spin; (II) to identify factors associated with dissemination of research results through online media, and (III) to explore how results of a trial reported with spin were disseminated to the scientific community and online media, using the 2014 DAPT trial as a case study.

For the first aim, we performed a cross-sectional study of health news and described the distortion of research results of studies evaluating an intervention in Google health news. We developed a classification of spin for health news and showed a high prevalence of spin. For the second aim, we performed a cohort study of articles evaluating cancer treatments and identify factors associated with high online media attention. The primary outcome was the attention received by media and social networks measured by Altmetric score. Our results highlighted the importance of open access and press releases.

Finally, we performed a systematic review of attention received by media and social networks surrounding the DAPT study which were reported with spin and undermine the adverse effects of the treatment. We showed that the interpretation of results by authors was rarely criticized.

These results highlighted the importance of spin in mass media and provided a tool (classification of spin) to improve the dissemination of research results.

Link to download the thesis

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