Sunday, March 05, 2017

Study: half of the studies you read about in the news are wrong

Brian Resnick · Friday, March 03, 2017, 10:30 am

And yes, this could be one of them.

There’s an oft-repeated mantra among scientists: A single study is rarely the final answer. And yet for science reporters, new studies are irresistible — a bold new finding makes a great headline.

Which explains how we get into confusing situations like this:

Why don't people pay attention to health advice? It's a mystery.
— Christopher Snowdon (@cjsnowdon) February 23, 2017
The problem isn’t necessarily that these studies are poorly designed (although some of them may be). The problem is that each headline gives an incomplete glimpse of how science works. One lab produces a result. Another lab — ideally — tries to replicate that result. Rinse and repeat. Eventually someone needs to do a meta-review of the totality of the evidence on the question to reach a conclusion. That meta-review, rather than any one study in isolation, is likely to get closer to the true answer.

Yet as researchers in PLOS One recently found, journalists typically only cover those initial papers — and skip over writing about the clarifying meta-reviews that come later on.

What’s more, the study finds, journalists “rarely inform the public when [initial studies] are disconfirmed” — despite the fact around half of the studies journalists write about are later rebutted by follow-up studies.

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