Are the benefits of grit exaggerated?

relay-race-655353_960_720Over the past decade, researchers have focused on the idea that determination and consistency can lead to success – even more so than traditional factors such as talent or I.Q. [Read more…]

The evidence on salt? The jury is still out

salt-shaker_300To most people across the globe, salt tastes delicious. It’s the reason most people crave foods like potato chips, peanuts and pretzels. There’s also a sizeable dose of salt in most processed foods, such as soups, frozen entrees and store-bought sauces. Salt even turns up in foods you wouldn’t expect, such as Corn Flakes and cookies. [Read more…]

Is science reliable?

research ready graphicHere at EBL, we’re written before about the pitfalls of science reporting in popular media.   Even well-researched, comprehensive scientific reports often draw conclusions that we later learn are inaccurate. [Read more…]

How old is your heart? It matters for your health!

heartIn recent years, public health researchers have developed a novel framework for identifying the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s called “heart age.” [Read more…]

Deciphering the evidence on mental health in youth

kid-and-stressWe often hear in media reports about the rise of autism and attention disorders in our society. A few years back, New York magazine ran a feature article titled, “Is Everyone on the Autism Spectrum?”  that described the “cultural epidemic” of identifying with an autism-spectrum disorder such Asberger’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit disorder. But are these maladies really growing at alarming rates? And are our youth at risk? [Read more…]

How to measure childhood obesity

childhood obesityObesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Now a new systematic review has found that even more youth may be classified as obese. [Read more…]

Part 2: Obesity and stress – plus a lesson about reviews

Last week, we summarized a literature review that explained how stress leads to overeating and ultimately contributes to weight gain.

This information didn’t come from a meta analysis, but from a different kind of large-scale study called a literature review. We asked Janis Whitlock, a research scientist in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Transnational Research and Director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, to explain the difference. Here’s what she had to say: [Read more…]

An evidence-based birthday

By now, our regular readers know that here at EBL, we value systematic reviews above other forms of evidence. That’s because these reviews collect all of the available evidence on a given topic to provide a summary of what we know and an assessment of the data quality. In short, they’re the best way to find a definitive answer about what does and doesn’t work.

[Read more…]

Medical studies: Evidence you can trust?

Evidence-based Living is built around the idea that scientific study should guide our lives – in decisions we make for our families, in community initiatives, and of course in choosing medical treatments.

A new review this month is the Journal of Oncology raises important questions about the validity of medical studies.  The report reviewed 164 trials of treatments for breast cancer including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery conducted from 1995 to 2011.

It concluded that: most of the studies were clouded by overemphasizing the benefits of the treatment, or minimizing potential side effects.

For example, they reported on 92 trials which had a negative primary endpoint – which essentially means the treatment was not found to be effective for the main goal of the study. In 59 percent of those trials, a secondary end point – another goal – was used to suggest the experimental therapy was actually beneficial.

And only 32 percent of the studies reported severe or life-threatening side effects in the abstract – where medical professionals who are scanning the report might miss them. Studies that reported a positive primary endpoint – meaning the treatment was effective for the problem that researchers were targeting – were less likely to report serious side effects.

What does all of this mean?

Elaine Wethington, a medical sociologist at the College of Human Ecology, says the review reveals some important findings about medical studies.

“I would speculate that the findings are due to at least three processes,” she explained.

“First, trial results should be published even if the primary outcome findings are negative, but it can be difficult to find a journal that will publish negative findings,” she said. “As a result, there is a tendency to focus on other outcomes that are secondary in order to justify the work and effort.

“Second, presentation of findings can be influenced by a variety of conflicts of interest. There is a lot of published evidence – and controversy — that scientific data collection and analysis can be affected by the source of funding, private versus public.

“Third, this could also be explained as a problem in scientific peer review.  Reviewers and editors could insist that this type of bias in reporting be controlled,” Wethington said.

In short, she sees the publication of this review as an important step in improving the scientific review process.

Citizen scientists: The new research corps

More often than ever before, people from all walks of life –  from retired senior citizens to young families – are helping scientists collect data that support research projects. This movement of “citizen science” has flourished over the past decade as technology has advanced, allowing volunteers to share information with researchers quickly and accurately.

In fact, there are several interesting examples of “citizen science” here at Cornell University, including a survey of backyard birds and a project called Yardmap that encourages homeowners to map their yards so that researchers can better understand the habitat available to birds.

This month, a group of researchers from the United Kingdom has published a review that details exactly how “citizen science” is working, including summaries of projects across the globe, interviews with scientists who use this data and , and a guide of the best practices for conducting these types of projects. The review found some interesting conclusions. Among them:

  • The motivation for citizen scientists varies greatly. Successful projects tend to take into account the interests and skill-sets of participants, and their expectations.
  • Getting feedback from volunteers is an important component of a sucessful project and is acheived through a wide variety of mediums, including social media and face-to-face interactions.
  • Technologies such as GPS and smart phones have made it easier for citizens to share accurate data, but relying on these devices excludes those who don’t have access to them.

Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer is a proponent of “citizen science” for people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. He has conducted research that found that older adults who get involved in creating a sustainable society and conserving natural resources are not only helping the environment, they are also helping themselves.

“Research shows that citizen science activities provide a wonderful opportunity to achieve two goals at once: Adding to our knowledge about areas important to quality of life for people, while also providing opportunities for rewarding and meaningful activity,” he said. “And citizen science activities can be adapted for any life course stage, from elementary school students to retirees.”

In short, projects that use citizen volunteers to collect data are an important part of environmental research today, and understanding the best practices for this type of research is important.

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