July 14, 2009
Science in the news: separating the good from the bad from the ugly
By: Amy M. Romano, RN,CNM | 0 Comments
Especially in this era of Facebook and Twitter, pregnant women and those of us who influence their choices frequently come across news stories reporting on obstetric research. As with anything in the news, it's what's behind the headlines that counts.
Sometimes, new research findings yield important information that every pregnant woman should know. But the vast majority of studies are not intended to provide data that would ever justify widespread changes in obstetric practice, so their findings should be interpreted accordingly. Many are pilot studies designed to help determine if a bigger study is necessary and feasible. Other studies are designed to help understand physiological and pathological processes, not to test new interventions or care processes. Those that do measure outcomes of care often, due to resource or logistical constraints, rely on easy-to-measure findings (e.g., Apgar scores) that are poorly correlated with the conditions they are meant to predict (e.g., long-term cognitive or developmental disabilities). And no study, no matter how carefully it is designed and carried out, measures and reports every relevant outcome. Questions are always left unanswered, and sometimes the findings raise new questions. Finally, some studies are just plain flawed, biased, or both.
Responsible health science reporting should help consumers understand whether and under what circumstances a new study is relevant to them. Media should report what a new study was designed to tell us (research question, population, and methods), what the study told us (results) and what the study was unable to tell us (limitations). Media should also report conflicts of interest.
Our Bodies, Our Blog has compiled a nice list of resources for evaluating news. Check out these criteria for evaluating health-related stories from Health News Review and see if you can come up with a grade for the reporting in a news story that has piqued your interest lately. Let us know what you come up with in the comments! Here are a couple of recent stories to get you started:
From the Chicago Tribune, a story about a study measuring the effect of antibiotics on the development of wound infections in women with severe obstetric lacerations. The story reported:
Of 49 patients who were treated with cephalosporin at the Stanford and Santa Clara hospitals, 8.2 percent who received an antibiotic showed symptoms of an infection or wound complications versus 24.1 percent of women who received a placebo.
A story in Medical News Today reporting:
Prenatal multivitamin supplements are associated with a significantly reduced risk of babies with a low birth weight compared with prenatal iron-folic acid supplementation, found a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
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