READTHIS (Research Encourages Authors Determined To Heighten Interest in Studies)

Clever acronyms may attract attention, but study readers, as well as researchers, are reminded that it's the science that matters.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Aug. 28, 2006

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Clinical trials named with catchy acronyms are cited twice as often by subsequent researchers as are more prosaically named counterparts, according to a new study that itself carries a fancy moniker: Acronym-Named Randomized Trials in Medicine -- The ART in Medicine Study. It was published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

There is logic to this finding. After all, a study named MRFIT is likely to spring to mind faster than the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, although they are one and the same.

Researchers have been spending more and more time during the past decade coming up with these snappy titles, said Matthew Stanbrook, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada. But what are they hoping to gain? For one thing, attention.

Dr. Stanbrook and colleagues determined that studies with memorable names received nearly 14 citations per year while those without were cited about six times per year.

The researchers examined 173 studies published between 1953 and 2003 and found 59, or 34%, carried acronyms.

The frequently cited studies were also more likely to be published in Circulation, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine than were the others, said the study authors. Plus the studies with acronyms had higher quality scores, as measured by the Jadad method -- a methodological tool to evaluate a clinical trial. They also enrolled an average of five times as many patients.

But the researchers found, too, that acronym-named trials were four times more likely to be funded by the pharmaceutical industry and eight times more likely to be authored by an industry employee.

Although exemplary investigators may generate both clever acronyms and important research, they noted, readers of studies should make sure it's the science that provides the attraction rather than the name because, "this subtle linguistic tool could undermine evidence-based practice."

"The key message from this study is that people who use the medical literature have to be alert to any influences that might bias them in the use of the literature," said Dr. Stanbrook. And perhaps it's not surprising that drug companies spend time naming their trials, he said, since branding comes more naturally to them. "[Acronyms] have become a brand name for trials just as they have brand names for their medications."

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External links

"Acronym-Named Randomized Trials in Medicine -- The ART in Medicine Study," extract, New England Journal of Medicine, July 6 (link)

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