- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
28 September 2001 7:00 pm
BARCELONA, SPAIN--Your experiment resulted in a cloud of data points. What to do? Plot them on a graph and calculate the best-fitting line, of course. But statisticians agree that the line shouldn't extend beyond the range of known points without signaling to the reader that they've entered hypothetical territory--by switching to a dotted line, for instance. Such signposts go missing all the time in four leading medical journals, says Yen-Hong Kuo, a biostatistician at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey.
Kuo scoured every issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and the British Medical Journal published in the first half of 2000 looking for scatter plots with lines drawn through them. Of 37 such plots, almost 60% had a line running beyond the actual data points, which all of them failed to indicate, Kuo reported here on 14 September at the Fourth International Congress on Peer Review in Biomedical Publication. In four cases, the lines extended so far that the graphs made no sense. One JAMA paper, for instance, suggested that patients arrived at emergency rooms before the onset of stroke symptoms (see graph) while a study published in The Lancet implied that patients secrete a negative amount of proteins in their urine.
Such gaffes may be statistical misdemeanors, says Kuo, but they can be confusing, or even dangerous if they lead doctors to choose the wrong treatment. And medical journal editors at the meeting acknowledged that they should do a better job. But bad best-fit lines seem impossible to erase, says Barbara Hawkins, an epidemiologist specializing in ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University. "It's one of my pet peeves," says Hawkins. "I always point it out when I review a paper, but it doesn't always get fixed."
Abstract of the talk (Search for 'Kuo' on this page)
About the dangers of extrapolation: an excerpt from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi
The Fourth International Congress on Peer Review in Biomedical Publication