Blog: General

In this section of the site I’ll post general blog posts. Sometimes this will be about my experiences in academia, which might be interesting for those who are thinking of becoming academics, or other academics. Sometimes it will be about interesting things that are happening. Sometimes it will be about newspapers.

Newspapers often report on health, and when they do I’m usually left with a few questions about what actually was studied and how. Because I am an optimist, I assume that when this happens, it is because either the journalist isn’t a statistician or epidemiologist and so they don’t know what exactly is important to report, or because the journalist assumes the public is not concerned about the details.

I am concerned about the details.

I’ve spent a few years now critiquing studies in their methodology, looking for sources of bias and alternative explanations for the results. An acknowledgement of potential bias and how this could have impacted the results is necessary in any study report. It is not acceptable to say “our results are this, and therefore our conclusion is this” without at least considering how and why you might be wrong. This needs to be reflected in newspaper articles, since the academic papers much of the stories are based are usually far too technical for non-specialists.

In healthcare, seemingly more than any other field, there are those who try to make money from people who are justifiably scared, in pain, or without hope, by offering them remedies based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Healthcare should be entirely evidence based – when you are treated for something, you want to know that the treatment at least has a chance of working. Ideally, you would know exactly what the chances are of getting better, how long it will take to work, what the side effects are, and what other treatment options are available. Crucially, all this relies on evidence.

Homeopathy, for instance, has no evidence to support the argument that it works for many diseases, including asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. But there is still a homeopathic service in one of my local NHS hospitals, saying homeopathy is useful for asthma and bowel problems (among other things). Since this is an NHS hospital, I doubt anyone is making money, but these people do. Telling often vulnerable people that things work without (good, reliable) evidence to make money is little different to theft.

In this section of the website, I will write about news stories that are interesting, articles that don’t provide sufficient information for their conclusions (for these, I’ll try to give as much information as I can from the source study), and any other topical things I find interesting or irritating.