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Curb your Excitment

Posted 3/9/2017

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  I have written before about the danger of being too excited or optimistic about reported research advancement or miracle cures. Not talking here about advertised vitamins or supplements or diets that purport to prevent or cure cancer (and absolutely do not take those seriously), but about reports of legitimate studies with optimistic findings.

  There are lots of ways that such hopeful news can fall apart with further studies or reflection, but one big one is the fact that headlines are often made from a single study. Even though of us with distant and weak science backgrounds remember the importance of subsequent studies that replicate the first findings. The news can also disappoint when it turns out that the miracle cure actually only works on mice or even just in the petri dish.

  From Vox comes this thoughtful reminder:

This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study
In 2003, researchers writing in the American Journal of Medicine discovered something that should
change how you think about medical news. They looked at 101 studies published in top scientific journals
between 1979 and 1983 that claimed a new therapy or medical technology was very promising. Only five,
they found out, made it to market within a decade. Only one (ACE inhibitors, a pharmaceutical drug) was
still extensively used at the time of their publication.
But you'd never know that from reading the press. Take a recent miracle procedure for multiple sclerosis.
MS is a degenerative disease with no cure. In sufferers, the immune system attacks the protective layer
around the nerves, disturbing the communication between brain and body — and causing a cascade of
devastating symptoms: unsteady and jerking movements; loss of vision, bladder and bowel control; and
eventually, early death.

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