Identifying spin bias of nonsignificant findings in biomedical studies

Authors: Renée O’Leary, Giusy Rita Maria La Rosa, Robin Vernooij & Riccardo Polosa

BMC Research Notes



The purpose of this research note is to share a technique for the identification of spin bias that we developed as part of a living systematic review on the cardiovascular testing of e-cigarette substitution for cigarette smoking. While some researchers have remarked on the subjective nature of ascertaining spin bias, our technique objectively documents forms of spin bias arising from the misrepresentation of nonsignificant findings and from the omission of data.


We offer a two-step process for the identification of spin bias consisting of tracking data and findings and recording of data discrepancies by describing how the spin bias was produced in the text. In this research note, we give an example of the documentation of spin bias from our systematic review. Our experience was that nonsignificant results were presented as causal or even as significant in the Discussion of studies. Spin bias distorts scientific research and misleads readers; therefore it behooves peer reviewers and journal editors to make the effort to detect and correct it.