Tag Archives: research

Pfizer vaccine news sounds great — but it’s still data by press release

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.

PfizerVaccine_Blog_Studies_Haelle

Photo: Self Magazine via Flickr

Pfizer made waves Monday with its announcement that its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with partner BioNTech, is “strongly effective,” with a reported efficacy of over 90%. The news was so highly touted that I woke up to multiple texts from friends about it, and it definitely sounds exciting.

The problem? That 90% is almost the only number we know because the company didn’t release additional data for others to read and interpret. Once again, these “extraordinary” findings, as Pfizer’s senior vice president described them to Stat News, were shared as “data by press release,” a worrisome trend during a pandemic. Continue reading

Freshen your skills with online course on reading medical studies

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.

F. Perry Wilson

F. Perry Wilson

When it comes to feeling competent about understanding, interpreting and reporting on medical studies, one under-appreciated fact is that this is a long-term learning process. I first began to really understand how to make sense of medical studies at an AHCJ annual conference workshop.

Still, it wasn’t until I attended that same workshop two more times — and attended a Medicine in the Media workshop at the NIH and did some studying on my own — that I reached a point where I felt I knew what I was doing. Continue reading

New PubMed search site will continue to evolve

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.

PubMedIf you’re a frequent user of PubMed, you have likely already noticed the new website layout and have probably noticed some differences in search options or functionality. The new PubMed was first tested in labs at the National Library of Medicine site in March of 2019 and launched officially in fall 2019, but it wasn’t formally rolled out as the default until May 2020. (The old site is still available for a little longer — at least through the end of October — here.) Continue reading

Can people with low literacy easily access accurate info about COVID-19?

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.

COVID-Literacy

Photo: Arturo Donate via Flickr

Nothing is more important during a pandemic than ensuring that the public consistently receives accurate information that they can understand. But even government websites designed with the intent to reach people with low literacy levels appear to be falling short of their guidelines for accessible text, according to an August research letter in JAMA Network Open. Continue reading

Bias or comorbidity? Risk factors for respiratory disease aren’t always what they seem

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.

Bias or comorbidityBy this point, anyone who’s been covering or following COVID-19 knows that several comorbidities substantially increase the risk of complications and severe disease. Among those mentioned most often are diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

We learned of the associations between those conditions and more severe disease first from clinical anecdotes, then case series, then observational studies. But observational studies can almost never show causation. (I don’t think they can ever, on their own, show causation, but I add the “almost” because nothing in science is ever absolute.) Although diabetes is linked to poorer outcomes with COVID-19, it doesn’t mean having diabetes causes poorer outcomes. Continue reading

Keep an eye out for lead-time bias with COVID-19 deaths

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.

patient in hospital bed

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Lead time bias is a well-recognized challenge especially when it comes to studies and statistics looking at cancer screenings. As the entry on the AHCJ website explains, lead time bias is a type of bias that can “artificially inflate the survival time of someone with a disease.”

How? When providers get better at looking for — and finding — a disease, it appears to lengthen the time someone survives after diagnosis. In reality, the patient is not necessarily living longer than they would have if the disease were discovered later. It just seems like they’re living longer because the disease is identified sooner, and the “clock” on survival time starts earlier. Continue reading