Named medical trials garner extra attention

AVIATOR. SHOCK. AWESOME. Some medical researchers tag clinical studies with eye-grabbing acronyms to make them easier to refer to and remember. A new study suggests that an acronym also heightens the frequency with which other researchers cite a trial in subsequent publications. In essence, scientists have a bias toward discussing studies with short and catchy labels.

The extra attention lavished on studies tagged with acronyms could encourage doctors to apply the knowledge generated by those studies, researchers at the University of Toronto suggest in the July 6 New England Journal of Medicine. However, if acronyms encourage doctors to pay attention to named studies at the expense of unnamed ones, “this subtle linguistic tool could undermine evidence-based practice,” Matthew B. Stanbrook and his collaborators say.

For their analysis, the researchers selected 173 randomized cardiovascular trials published since 1953. About a third of them had been labeled with an acronym.

The labeled trials were more frequently funded by pharmaceutical companies and tended to be larger and of better quality than the unlabeled studies. Taking those and other underlying differences into account, the Toronto researchers calculate that trials identified by acronyms get mentioned in the medical literature 66 percent more often than other studies do.

Not surprisingly, the new study’s name has an acronym: Acronym-named Randomized Trials (ART) in Medicine.

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