One of my favorite recent articles is a review by Dr Christopher Labos in Medscape describing why what we read in the medical literature is not always correct. If it is reported as published in the New England Journal of Medicine we tend to believe it true. Unfortunately, all studies are subject to errors ranging from flawed assumptions to just plain chance. Ultimately for a study to be accurate it should withstand the test of time and be replicated – which is really the scientific method. However not all studies are replicated. Lobos cites a review of 45 studies in major medical journals; 24% were never replicated, 16% were contradicted by further studies, and in 16% the effect reported turned out to be smaller than originally reported. Some of the associations reported in the past which made headlines and which have turned out to be false include: Coffee consumption increases pancreatic cancer risk, cell phones cause brain tumors, and estrogen replacement prevents heart disease. Something to think about when you read about the next breakthrough.
Until next week. Dr Ed Taubman, Primary Care Doctor, Olney MD 301-774-5400
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