The drugs totally work. We swear.

Enlarge / The drugs totally work. We swear. (credit: www.quotecatalog.com)

It's not just longform journalism and apoplectic Internet commenters that prompt a "tl;dr" from readers. Research papers trigger it, too, as scientists are so inundated with the volume of new results that just barely keeping up is a struggle. According to University of Oxford psychiatrist Michael Sharpe, "Everyone is deluged with information."

Research papers give a brief summary of their contents in an information-rich "abstract" of the article—it's often the only text that's publicly available from a paywalled journal. Time-pressed researchers may rely on the abstract rather than investing in reading the lengthy paper, but those abstracts are not always reliable. A paper published this week in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine found that half of the 116 psychiatry and psychology articles they analyzed included some sort of spin that made the results look better than they were.

"These findings raise a major concern," Sharpe told the Science Media Centre, "especially as readers may draw conclusions on the basis of the abstract alone, without critically appraising the full paper."

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