Thursday, December 01, 2005

Studying the Studies

A recent study warns that up to a third of all medical research is wrong, often because it doesn’t employ randomized samples, and that doctors and laypeople alike should be wary of embracing too enthusiastically the results of any one piece of research. The study goes on to recommend that a system be put in place that would grade the quality of all published medical research by evaluating such factors as “the rigor of its experimental design, sample size and amount of supporting research.

Aside from the irony of one medical study criticizing other medical studies and my skepticism over the reliability of the people and methods used to evaluate the reliability of research results, I like the idea of rating medical studies for quality. Most of us aren’t qualified to evaluate the quality of this research ourselves, and even most clinicians who, we can only hope, are qualified are often just too plain busy treating patients to spend the requisite time and energy to scrutinize studies carefully enough to evaluate them well. Having experts or panels of experts, who presumably have the time to do their jobs effectively, might make it easier for all of us to give each medical study that captures our attention the credence it merits and empower us to become better consumers and practitioners of the healing arts.

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