Just Another Statistic

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 02/02/2014 0 comments

As a health journalist, I’m a big fan of scientific studies. They are an endless source of good article fodder — in part because they involve a goodly amount of controversy.

One study supports X. The next subverts X. One interpretation of a study on Y asserts that Y is the next great hope. Another interpretation of the same study decries Y’s dangers.

So what’s true? It depends on which studies you think have the most merit and in which expert interpretations you put the most faith.

“But this is about science, not faith!” you say. Fair enough. But studies can be biased and befuddled, poorly designed, or unfairly maligned. They can be misconstrued and misreported. There’s a lot of money and power involved, and a lot of reputations at stake.

And that’s why a lot of potentially compelling studies (including long-term dietary studies with low profit potential) never get funded, and why many others (like clinical trials that report negative results about blockbuster drugs) simply never see the light of day.

A new study from the Cochrane Collaboration confirms that the phenomenon known as “publishing bias” may be having a significant (and scary) impact on which studies make it into major journals, and which don’t.

(Read the rest of this article, which first appeared in Experience Life magazine.)

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