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
The intersection of scientific research, evidence and expertise can be a dicey one, particularly in an age in which evidence-based medicine is replacing the clinical expertise of practitioners.
In The New York Times Sunday Review, Jamie Holmes wrote about how the challenge of assessing the quality of evidence against expertise and less stringently conducted research can lead readers to confusion and frustration. Continue reading
Perhaps you stumble onto an intriguing study that you haven’t seen covered and want to report on it. Or you receive a press release touting provocative findings that sound pretty astonishing … if they’re true. One potential indication of the paper’s significance and quality is the journal in which it was published.
Publication in a highly regarded journal is not a guarantee in itself that the paper is good – the blog Retraction Watch has hundreds of examples of that. In fact, one of the most famously retracted studies of all time – that of Andrew Wakefield’s attempt to link autism and vaccines in a small cases series – was published in The Lancet, one of the top medical journals in the U.K. (Ironically, that study continues to contribute to The Lancet’s impact factor because it’s the second-most-cited retracted paper as ranked by Retraction Watch.) Continue reading
Dental folks collectively caught their breath when they heard about the study, just published in the journal Pediatrics.
The findings: Children whose parents “cleaned” dropped pacifers by sucking on them were less likely to have asthma or eczema at 18 months than children whose parents did not use this particular method.
In a May 6 story for National Public Radio, reporter Rob Stein explained the findings. He started out by talking with a typical mom who described washing her child’s pacifier when he dropped it, even cleaning it in boiling water if it fell “somewhere particularly gross.”
But, then Stein went on to say “there’s a theory that says: That may not be the best way to go. That sterilizing that pacifier may actually have a big downside. To try to find out, Bill Hesselmar, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and his colleagues, studied 184 babies who used pacifiers and their parents. Continue reading
Outside, there is still a chill in the air and I have recent memories of several inches of snow on the ground. Inside, I’m reading about sweltering summer heat and its effect on respiratory hospitalizations.
Specifically, the largest epidemiological study of its kind – 12.5 million Medicare beneficiaries in 213 U.S. urban counties with at least 30 percent of their population 65 or older. “Heat-related emergency hospitalizations for respiratory diseases in the Medicare population” (Anderson, et. al) was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health investigated the connection between heat and emergency respiratory hospitalizations, which was less clear than that heat-related mortality in the elderly. Continue reading
Last October, Brigham and Women’s Hospital took the unusual step of recalling a press release about a research study.
Just hours before the study’s embargo lifted, Brigham’s press officers asked the researchers to stop giving interviews, and barely half an hour before the story went live, they alerted the press that the study’s data was “weak.”
People involved in the decision say it’s the first time the Harvard-affiliated hospital had ever publicly pulled its support for a study.
Of course, Brigham’s disavowal of the research became the headline instead:
- “Harvard Hospital Admits it Promoted Weak Science on Aspartame” was the title of Robert Bazell’s piece for NBC news.
- Allison Aubrey’s story “Data Linking Aspartame to Cancer Risk are Too Weak to Defend, Hospital Says” took more measured strides but generally traveled down the same road for NPR’s food blog, The Salt.
Since Brigham’s decision not to promote the study, I reached out to the hospital’s media team, the study authors, and the editor of the journal that published the study to get their perspectives. They agreed to help me because they want health reporters to understand the pitfalls of promoting science, and how that effort can sometimes veer too far from a study’s actual findings. Continue reading