Sorry if you read this post John as I know this is day 1 medical school. Please feel free to skip this post. It's just that this issue drives me nuts as I continue to read these misleading media reports and am dumbfounded that readers still haven't woken up to basic issues concerning statistics. I already discussed the issue of study power here when I spoke about tPA in stroke- nuff said. Yet here we go again.
OK, with that in mind, I'm sure you have all read about the latest on cell phones and brain cancer. All I can ask is "was it P.T. Barnum that said 'there's a sucker born every minute and none of them ever die?'"
Just read the very first sentence of the entire article:
"A long-awaited study of cellphone use and brain health has finally been released, but the data are raising more questions than answers."
While it is possible that the people running the study were a bunch of bumbling idiots and simply could not execute on the data they had, "long awaited" is medical speak for "It took the researcher a long time to enroll enough patients to be able to even say that they had something to say".
Now this can only mean one of two things:
1. It was hard to find patients to enroll in the study because they are very rare, etc... and therefore hard to find.
2. They enrolled lots of patients in the study but whatever effect they noticed was so small and insignificant that they needed to enroll a very large number of patients before they could even say that they had something to say.
I'll let you decide whether cell phones are rather common and therefore whether it would likely be hard to find people who use them and enroll them in a study.
Let me just share my own personal bias: THERE ARE A TON OF PEOPLE USING CELL PHONES SO ENROLLMENT IS NOT A PROBLEM!!!!!
This leaves only scenario B. Whatever effect they found was small
Now is the effect real? That is another issue entirely. But whether it is real or not, it is not likely very meaningful.
So I'll let you decide for yourself whether it is real and/or whether meaningless to all might still be still meaningful to others, but in the mean time I will personally worry more about bigger problems like whether I'm going to get killed by a drive who is texting while driving, etc...
What do we need to do to get people to understand this relatively simple issue?
PS- lest you think this issue "unimportant", think again.
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