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The Age of Misinformation, Part 3: Debunking Hallowed Ground – Medical Research October 30, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in education, InformationIssues, Of Interest.
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Today I experienced one of those small miracles where it seems like the entire universe has converged to say “Yes, I agree with you!” when I was e-mailed an article that expresses everything I have been examining and thinking for the last 8 months–“can any medical-research studies be trusted?” In recent months I have become increasingly involved in researching various medical discussions. While initially disgusted by the number of the people quoting statistics and “they say” aphorisms on the internet without citing any kind of research, my turn to peer-reviewed medical journals, government agencies, and well-established professional societies seemed promising. Boy was I wrong.

The first problem I encountered was a marked dearth of research on certain topics even when preliminary research and letters to the editor stressed the need for follow-up studies. Why had no one taken on the topics so easily presented to them?

My second problem was faulty or insufficient research. How were “peer-reviewed” journals approving studies that used narrow demographics or extremely limited participants as their population of study? And what about the literature reviews and topic analyses that incorporated data over ten years old (or older)? How about the number of studies that measure long-term effects of a drug/procedure when the “long-term” lasts six months?

The final straw was the directly contradictory data between comparable research studies. What could account for one study claiming that vaccinating pregnant women in the third trimester prevents influenza in newborns 63% of the time, while another study claims that the protection is negligible (both supplying method and hard numbers)? While the bias of certain professional organizations (often funded by pharmaceutical companies) was obvious in some, even bias cannot sway hard numbers, or so I believed.

So when “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science” by David H. Freeman in the November issue of the Atlantic showed up in my inbox, I was more than thrilled to know I was not alone. The article follows self-proclaimed “meta-researcher” John Ioannidis who, along with his team, has proven, “that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong.”

We have become so accustomed to the way doctors, nutritionists, and scientists later retract studies, or the refutation of older studies by newer ones, that we rarely question why this has happened. Most people, I would surmise, make the assumption that science and research have improved over time and thus provided us with new evidence and information. But, according to Ioannidis, this is not the case. Faulty research, again and again, is. The common errors he lists range from “what questions researchers posed, to how they set up the studies, to which patients they recruited for the studies, to which measurements they took, to how they analyzed the data, to how they presented their results, to how particular studies came to be published in medical journals.”

Does this mean scientists and researchers are lazy? Ignorant? Inherently evil? Why would such important and literally life-altering work be composed so shoddily? Bias. (Hmm…sound familiar?) Turns out that even unintentionally, bias has a way of making itself into every step of the research process, influencing outcomes greatly and it doesn’t matter if this bias is self-inflicted or the product of an outside pressure such as those funding the research. (I cannot help but to point out the irony here, in that we must question whether bias played a role in Ioannidis’ research on research.) And while bias is the source of the faulty research, a number of factors perpetuate the misinformation, including sensationalism, lack of thorough research (i.e. ignoring/missing later refuting studies), and lack of duplication of the experiment.

So what is the point of research refuting research? I’ll stop summarizing the article and give you a chance to decide for yourself. But let me leave you with this last thought: Ioannidis’ research, like medical research, provokes us to examine things we held to be true. And just like medical research, it seems to come up short, leaving us with the question, “well what can we do about it?” Perhaps further research is needed. ; )


Should the Digital Divide Be Closed? June 23, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in education, InformationIssues.
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Interesting bit from the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website, pointing to a new study that is showing a statistically significant DECREASE in math and reading test scores among students with home computer and internet access.

Meanwhile, students with limited access to computers and internet did not experience this statistical decrease. Does this mean that we should not be working to close the digital divide? That we should not be trying to make computers and internet accessible to every child?

Another point found in the study was that students who had computers and internet at home, but were limited in usage due to “more effective parental monitoring” did not experience the same negative effect on test scores. Perhaps the children in these households put the technology and internet access to more productive uses?

This study is seems to indicate that computers, internet and technology are not only not a magic pill to increase test scores, but without the proper guidance, may be a distraction and hindrance to students’ academic performance.

Does this mean that we should not close the “digital divide”? What do you think?

Ray Bradbury on Libraries March 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in education.
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Ray Bradbury on Libraries (quoted in NY times last June):

Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.

Thanks KtotheY616!

Big Words are Sexy (but you knew that) December 31, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in education, Just for Fun.
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What is it about the British that make them so articulate?

(via Misscellenia.com via Arbroath)

To College or Not to College; That is the Question December 4, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in education, Uncategorized.
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Good.is posts the question, “Are too many people going to college?” based on an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle asks a panel of experts, among them professors and career experts, the questions:

“who should and shouldn’t go to college… how much does increasing college-going rates matter to our economy and society…economists have cited the economic benefits that individual students derive from college. does that still apply…who should pay for students to attend college…does the US view and handle this issue differently than other countries? should it…at what point does the cost of college outweigh the benefits?”

The panel differs widely in opinions but all bring up important points. My opinion aligns most closely with Charles Murray’s statement (and Dataduchess might disagree) that, “We have a moral obligation to destroy the current role of the B.A. in American life. It has become an emblem of first-class citizenship for no good reason,” which means that I also disagree with Daniel Yankelovich’s argument that, “With the disappearance of virtually all highly paid, low-skill jobs, the only way that most Americans can fulfill their aspirations for middle-class status is through acquiring a higher-education credential and the skills that go with it…Employers know that they are able to train qualified employees in specialized skills. For most employers, ‘qualified’ means having core skills like the ability to read, write, think clearly, and bring a strong work ethic to the task. It is those core skills (and virtues) that higher education warrants.”

From CanadianVeggie's Flickr Stream, licensed under Creative Commons

Yankelovich’s pretentious remarks assume that higher education provides the basic required skills of most jobs and a virtuous work ethic. He also argues that “low-skill” jobs have ceased to exist. It must be “low-skill” jobs that I argue for, for these do not require reading and writing.  Living in a rural area where the general contractors, electricians, and farmers make a decent (and often prosperous) living, and even the painters, pavers, and Cable men do well, I find these comments hard to digest. The “skills” for these professions are those things learned on the job, things for which they are certainly trained, but also things for which a college education would cause the delay of acquired proficiency. This is the very reason that institutes of higher learning push (and in many cases require) internships. And while internships are a part of higher education they are limited in time and scope. Being a full-time employee and learning the in and outs of a job are skills that can only be learned by those who choose to forgo a college education.

As for higher education begetting clear thinking and strong work ethics, my experiences in college libraries prove the opposite.  Not all young adults should be in college.  Many of the students do just enough to get a decent grade, taking short cuts and only putting in the most minimal effort. These young adults would perhaps do better if engaged in a hands-on career that challenged them and kept them busy. Perhaps Yankelovich is too entrenched in the institution of higher education to realize that “skills” are not limited to those taught in the classroom. If anything, the classroom is the vehicle that limits the “skills”.

English Language Learners in the US November 12, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in education.
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Came across this NY Times interactive map of the US which illustrates the amount of people in an area that are learning English. Not too many surprises, with California and border areas having the highest percentages of ELLs (English Language Learners). But, I was surprised that NY didn’t have higher numbers, and also at the high numbers in the Northwest and Alaska… what languages are people natively speaking there if not English?

(via 2CoolTools)