Tag: Review articles

Fact-checking Medical Claims

In 2007/08, the work of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler revealed that human behaviors, and even states of mind, tracked through social networks much like infectious disease.

Or put another way, both obesity and happiness worm their way into connected communities just like the latest internet meme, the best Charlie Sheen rumors, or the workplace gossip about Johnny falling down piss-drunk at the company’s holiday party.

But according to a new research study, incorrect medical facts may be no different, galloping from person to person, even within the confines of the revered peer-reviewed scientific literature. And by looking at how studies cite facts about the incubation periods of certain viruses, a new study in PLoS ONE has found that quite often, data assumed to be medical fact isn’t based on evidence at all.

How many glasses of water are we supposed to drink each day? Eight – everyone knows it’s eight. But according to researchers from the schools of Public Health and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, this has never been proven true. In fact, they argue there’s not one single piece of data that supports this claim.

Digging a little deeper, the research team dove into scientific papers looking for places where researchers quoted the incubation period of different viruses, from influenza to measles. Every time a claim was made, they traced the network of citations back to the original data source (and provided a cool visualization of the path, to boot). For example, many studies will set the stage for their own research by saying that it’s commonly known that the incubation period for influenza is 1-4 days, and next to that statement, they’ll put a small reference in parenthesis, which signals where they obtained that information.Continue reading…