Recently I wrote about the need to check citations when covering a study that triggers mental alarm bells, such as a statistic that strains belief. That post focused on a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine that frequently had been cited as evidence that opioids aren’t very addictive.
A few weeks later, a similar issue undermined the credibility of dozens (or more) publications on a far more divisive topic — gun violence.
I’m frequently asked on social media for my thoughts on a particular study. In this situation, I thought the quick analysis I did may be instructive for others, so I’ve Storified it here, along with additional commentary and resources. Continue reading
Some of the most difficult research to make sense of comes from nutrition science. It is difficult, expensive and labor-intensive to conduct randomized controlled trials in nutrition, in part because they require randomizing what people eat and then ensuring they eat what they’re supposed to – no more and no less.
Even when such trials are finished (often at in-patient labs), the populations are usually small and somewhat homogenous, thus reducing the generalizability and overall clinical utility of results. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
One of the most important skills required of reporters who cover medical research is the ability to find and discuss the limits of the studies we cover.
To that end, a trio of professors at Cambridge University recently published a helpful comment in the journal Nature: “Twenty Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims.” (If you don’t subscribe, you can read the full article for free here.)
Some of my favorites (in no particular order):
- Study relevance limits generalizations – a great reminder that the conditions of any study will limit how its findings can be applied in the real world.
- Bias is rife – We talk about several types of bias in the topic section, like reporting bias and healthy user effect. The article reminds us that even the color of a tablet can shade how study participants feel. Continue reading
Older Americans 2012, a new report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, is an important resource for reporters on the aging beat.
It’s an overview of all kinds of issues affecting older adults based on data from 2009, the latest available. As such, it doesn’t reflect the full impact of the economic downturn on older Americans. But it’s still full of nuggets of interesting information.
Some items that caught my eye:
- Fewer seniors are living in poverty. Between 1974 and 2010, the proportion of older adults with incomes below the poverty threshold fell from 15 percent to 9 percent.
- More seniors now fall in the “high income” category. During the time period specified above, well-off older adults expanded from 18 percent to 31 percent.