Tip sheet series to focus on red flags to look for in medical studies

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

With thousands of medical studies published every day, it’s impossible to cover even 1 percent of them. When you can only choose a tiny fraction of studies to cover — particularly if you freelance or your editor gives you some autonomy and flexibility in this area — how do you decide whether or not to cover a study?

Reasons can vary: Some people focus on the better known “more prestigious” journals, although that approach has its drawbacks. While some reporters focus on a very narrow beat, they still have to decide what to cover since whole journals can be devoted to just a slice of that beat.

A new series of tip sheets in the AHCJ medical studies core topic area will explore what to look for in studies to help you determine whether it’s worth covering and how skeptically to view it. The tip sheets are culled from social media crowdsourcing and tip sheets from sources around the web. The first tip sheet focuses on four of the most important parts of a study to investigate:

  • population size
  • statistical and clinical significance of findings
  • confounding in observational studies
  • inadequately described methodology

Future tip sheets will look at other red flags, ways to dig deeper to investigate possible flaws in studies and how to determine whether and when animal studies are worth covering.

Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed at some point to the series: Hilda Bastian, Heather Boerner, Katie Burke, Alice Callahan, Jean Kim, Bridget Kuehn, Esther Landhuis, Jennifer Larson, Becca Lawton, Robin Lloyd, Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Kat McGowan, Emily Mullin, Anna Nowogrodzki, Ivan Oransky, Shannon Palus, Diane Peters, Jordan Rosenfeld, Julie Schwietert Collazo, Dinsa Sachan, Leah Sheline, Nancy Shute, Beth Skwarecki, Eva Von Schaper, Gary Schwitzer, Andrew Seaman, Aimee Swartz, Jessica Wapner, Melinda Wenner Moyer and Sarah Emily Wild.

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