Health News Review
  • May 3 2012

    The limitations of – and explosion in the number of – observational studies

    In the Wall Street Journal, Gautam Naik has a thoughtful piece, “Analytical Trend Troubles Scientists,” hitting on the limitations of – and the explosion in the number of – observational studies.  Excerpts: “While the gold standard of medical research is the randomly controlled experimental study, scientists have recently rushed to pursue observational studies, which are much easier, cheaper and quicker to do. Costs…

  • Dec 20 2007

    Does Your Language Fit The Evidence?

    their dying less frequently from heart attacks? The new wording suggests that’s the case, but the original study does not support a conclusion of cause and effect. Epidemiologic – or observationalstudies examine the association between what’s known in epidemiologic jargon as an exposure (e.g., a food, something in the environment, or a behavior) and an outcome (often a disease or death). Because of all the …

  • Mar 3 2015

    A tale of two observational studies – peanuts, coffee, heart health – and how the journals & some journalists handled them differently

    I saw this coming as soon as I saw the BMJ news release about a study published in one of its journals, Heart. The BMJ, which seemed to have turned a corner recently, starting to include at least boilerplate news release language about the limitations of observational studies, dropped the ball on a new one. Larry Husten of Cardiobrief beat me to the punch with his piece, “No, Drinking Coffee Won’t Save Your Life or Prevent Heart Att…

  • Jan 21 2014

    Journalists have “systematic bias” to cover weaker studies

    A paper in PLoS One, “Media Coverage of Medical Journals: Do the Best Articles Make the News?” answers a resounding “No.” Excerpt: Media outlets must make choices when deciding which studies deserve public attention. We sought to examine if there exists a systematic bias favoring certain study design in the choice of articles covered in the press. Our results suggest such a bias; the media is more likely to cover observat…

  • Feb 12 2013

    Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time observational studies are miscommunicated. It just seems that way.

    Health news this week is dripping with warm, gushing claims about the health benefits of chocolate – just in time for Valentine’s Day. Headlines such as: Chocolate – the love drug. Dark Chocolate & Red Wine – The food of love and health Chocolate is good for health and relationships. But one blogger wrote, “I have “Chocolate Concerns.”  Is Chocolate as Healthy as Claimed?” Excerpt:  Most cocoa studies are …

  • Dec 3 2012

    Cardiobrief: Exercise And The Limitations Of Observational Studies

    …ge of the study followed suit, with nearly all reports emphasizing the positive effects of exercise. So what’s wrong here? It almost seems churlish to insist on the point, but of course the study (like all other observational studies) didn’t– couldn’t– actually say anything about the real effect of exercise on health. It seems reasonable to assume that more exercise leads to increased fitness leads to improved health. That’s what we all probably …

  • Jan 22 2014

    Misleading BMJ news releases may be one reason journalists report on more observational studies

    Just a few days ago, a paper in the journal PLoS One, “Media Coverage of Medical Journals: Do the Best Articles Make the News?” showed how journalists are more likely to report on observational studies than on randomized clinical trials.  The authors suggest this shows a systematic bias to report on weaker evidence. And here’s one reason why that may happen. This week the BMJ sent out a news release on a paper from the Annals o…

  • Feb 9 2015

    Endometrial cancer joins the “coffee club” in which association ≠ causation

    lso published a news release, “Coffee Intake May Lower Endometrial Cancer Risk.”  It wasn’t a bad news release, but it never mentioned anything about the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies.  It didn’t use any inappropriate causal language, instead referring to observations and associations.  But it also didn’t educate readers as well as it might have. News releases from journals and profess…

  • Jan 21 2013

    Observational Studies and Falsification Endpoints

    8212;——————————- That JAMA article by Prasad and Jena offers a rather unique solution to the vexing problem of false positive associations generated in observational studies.  Their solution is to include an implausible hypothesis into the mix, called a “falsification endpoint.” The current New Drug Approval (NDA) process is woefully inadequate to identify relatively rare side effects of…

  • Mar 2 2012

    Please read our primer on observational studies

    If you follow health care news in mainstream media, you’re going to be flooded with news from observational studies – research that is not a true experiment but, rather, what is seen by observing people doing different things over time. It’s valid and important research but one thing we can’t lose sight of:  such research CAN NOT PROVE CAUSE-AND-EFFECT.  It can only point to statistical associations, such as “It app…




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