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 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.