Those of you who know me at least moderately well understand I've become increasingly concerned about how we're reporting findings from "studies" around health, wellness and prevention. Cited research often includes meta-analyses of the literature, or case studies from which we cannot infer statistical significance, or - worse yet - surveys.
Of even more concern to me is the "file-drawer effect
," which refers to researchers who file away studies with negative outcomes - meaning they do not report the results from studies that contradict either the researchers' hypotheses or commonly-held beliefs. I think this trend to hold back research results is a dangerous one and leads us to repeat mistakes others made who came before us.
There are health writers and health care professionals who are trying to educate the public about the mis-reporting of health stories, including Gary Schwitzer (@garyschwitzer) of Health News Review, @Medskep, Howard Luks (@hjluks) and Bob Merberg (@WellWork).
My new commitment is to ask every person with whom I have the privilege to interview or interact not only about their current work but about their greatest failure. You know what I mean. That great idea that simply didn't pan out.
My belief - perhaps it is a call-to-action - is that all of us need to become more educated students of the health, medical and wellness / prevention literature. We need to read both research and media reports with a scientifically-critical eye. And, we need to carefully only share, tweet, +1 and "like" stories that hold up to scrutiny. Or, if we share stories with limited statistical significance, that we point out the weakness in the work as we see it.
And, maybe - just maybe, we can do it in a way that's as entertaining, fun and interesting as Aaron Sorkin.