Sexier is Perceived Better When It Comes to Scientific Studies

There is always two sides to the story. And when it comes to medical studies, positive stories may sway physician practice methods more so than studies that conclude that there was no difference as a result of the research. Even in science, sexier stories sell.

“No-difference studies affect practice just as much as positive ones, but they aren’t as sexy,” said Dr. Seth Leopold of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the research. “Something splashy, something new, is more exciting to everybody.”

With journal articles focused on the next best thing it can make the new drugs and treatments seem better than they really are, while giving the proven standbys none of the respect they deserve.

To study the level of ‘positive-outcome bias’ among journal editors, researchers presented peer reviewers at two orthopedic journals with one of two fictitious studies that were identical in every way except one: One study showed that one treatment was superior to another, while the other indicated no difference between treatments. Reviewers not only overwhelmingly picked the positive study (97.3 percent recommended publishing the positive study vs. 80 percent for the negative study), but they also more harshly criticized the quality of the no-change study.

So despite the rigors of evidence and science, even researchers can get caught up in perception and brand considerations. Typically they do not get their hands dirty with that but they are influenced by it nonetheless, even if they are not aware that they are influenced at all!

And that should be a lesson to us all about perhaps questioning and being a bit more cynical of studies, products and services that promise to cure all of our ills.