Brain imaging studies report more positive findings than their numbers can support. This is fishy.

August 26th, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in academic publishing, publication bias, regulating research, statistics | 22 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 13 August 2011

While the authorities are distracted by mass disorder, we can do some statistics. You’ll have seen plenty of news stories telling you that one part of the brain is bigger, or smaller, in people with a particular mental health problem, or even a specific job. These are generally based on real, published scientific research. But how reliable are the studies?

One way of critiquing a piece of research is to read the academic paper itself, in detail, looking for flaws. But that might not be enough, if some sources of bias might exist outside the paper, in the wider system of science.

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Sampling error, the unspoken issue behind small number changes in the news

August 22nd, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in bbc, media, statistics, uncertainty | 18 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 20 August 2011

What do all these numbers mean? “‘Worrying’ jobless rise needs urgent action – Labour” was the BBC headline. They explained the problem in their own words: “The number of people out of work rose by 38,000 to 2.49 million in the three months to June, official figures show.”

Now, there are dozens of different ways to quantify the jobs market, and I’m not going to summarise them all here. The claimant count and the labour force survey are commonly used, and number of hours worked is informative too: you can fight among yourselves for which is best, and get distracted by party politics to your heart’s content. But in claiming that this figure for the number of people out of work has risen, the BBC is simply wrong.

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I made a documentary about cohort studies in epidemiology, on BBC Radio 4

August 4th, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in onanism, podcast | 10 Comments »

I made a documentary about prospective cohort studies in epidemiology, they’re the tool we use to find out if one thing is associated with another, where trials are impossible. It’s really good. Instead of reading about it, listen here:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b012wg2q/Science_From_Cradle_to_Grave/

Or listen live when it’s repeated tonight on Radio 4 at 9pm. Read the rest of this entry »