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Friday, August 04, 2017

Distractions Research

John Mandrola, MD
August 02, 2017
After 2 decades of practicing medicine, I have come to believe that distraction is one of the clinician's greatest foes. We miss important stuff because nonsense steals our full attention.
Having spent the past few years reviewing and reporting on studies, I think distraction also impedes medical progress. The new phenomenon of worship of page views and clickability exacerbates the problem of distracting wasteful research. Good studies (signal) are droned out by the observational nonsense (noise). In these days of information overload, attention has never been more vital.


It's unlikely that an opinion column from one doctor will stem the onslaught of wasteful, distracting research studies. But some simple things may help lessen the distraction of overhyped research:
  • Journals could be more restrictive in their acceptance of weak papers and more transparent in listing the weaknesses of a study. Why not put limitations in the abstract?
  • Authors and journals should tone down the press releases. Please. I am far more likely to read and report on a study that exudes honesty in the lead paragraph of a press release.
  • Readers need to be more informed and skeptical about common biases. Think more about confounding factors and reverse causation. And always remember that correlation does not mean causation.

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