From The September 1999 Issue of Nutrition Science News
Are Abstracts Accurate?
You can't judge a journal article by its abstract. That's what researchers discovered when they assessed whether the abstracts that accompany research articles accurately reflect their content. Abstracts were inaccurate, on average, 43 percent of the time.
Researchers randomly selected 44 articles from each of five medical journalsAnnals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicinepublished between July 1, 1996, and June 30, 1997, as well as all 44 articles from Canadian Medical Association Journal published between July 1, 1996, and Aug. 15, 1997. All articles were at least two journal pages long and had abstracts.
The results, published in JAMA [1999 Mar 24-31; 281 (12):1110-1 see below], showed that between 18 and 68 percent of the 264 abstracts evaluated from major medical journals were inaccurate, meaning there were omissions or inconsistencies between the data in the abstract and the data in the body, tables and figures of the main article.
In a separate editorial in the same issue
, Margaret A. Winker, M.D., deputy editor of JAMA, says the results are "especially troubling because abstracts are widely used, often separate from their text, as in MEDLINE and other databases, and data taken from the abstracts may be reported and disseminated in other works, in other formats and in the media."
Accuracy of Data in Abstracts of Published Research Articles
JAMA 1999 (Mar 24); 281 (12): 1110–1111
Pitkin RM, Branagan MA, Burmeister LF
CONTEXT: The section of a research article most likely to be read is the abstract, and therefore it is particularly important that the abstract reflect the article faithfully.
OBJECTIVE: To assess abstracts accompanying research articles published in 6 medical journals with respect to whether data in the abstract could be verified in the article itself.
DESIGN: Analysis of simple random samples of 44 articles and their accompanying abstracts published during 1 year(July 1, 1996-June 30, 1997) in each of 5 major general medical journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine) and a consecutive sample of 44 articles published during 15 months (July 1, 1996-August 15, 1997) in the CMAJ.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Abstracts were considered deficient if they contained data that were either inconsistent with corresponding data in the article's body (including tables and figures) or not found in the body at all.
RESULTS: The proportion of deficient abstracts varied widely (18%-68%) and to a statistically significant degree (P<.001) among the 6 (medical) journals studied.
CONCLUSIONS: Data in the abstract that are inconsistent with or absent from the article's body are common, even in large-circulation general medical journals.