Think positively - what has research done for us

Steve Simon


Several years ago, I was part of panel presentation at the Joint Statistical Meetings. My talk was on how to teach Statistics from an evidence-based perspective. A question came up from the audience about the quality of medical research and there’s a lot of cynicism in the Statistics community about this. Each comment from the audience seemed to get more negative and I stepped in to offer a counter argument. The research process has a lot of flaws, but we have made a ton of progress in how we provide medical care thanks to the careful and rigorously designed studies that have been done. I didn’t convince anyone - but it felt good to stand up for something I strongly believe in. Recently, I had to look for examples of research that has changed clinical practice for the better and found several interesting articles.

Mareike K. Thompson, Philip Poortmans, Anthony J. Chalmers, Corinne Faivre-Finn, Emma Hall, Robert A. Huddart, Yolande Lievens, David Sebag-Montefiore & Charlotte E. Coles. Practice-changing radiation therapy trials for the treatment of cancer: where are we 150 years after the birth of Marie Curie? British Journal of Cancer, volume 119, pages 389–407 (2018) . Available in html format or PDF format.

This article lists dozens of studies, places them in historical context, explains some of the limitations of clinical trials (brief but very good!) and talks about the next steps.

Critical Care Reviews. Top 100 Contemporary Critical Care Studies. Available in html format.

This is a web page rather than a full article. Unlike the previous study, this one lists a much broader range of medical practice. Only the first 40 or so studies are described and then only tersely. But you can get a good feel for the research just by looking at the titles of the papers.

PEDro. Top 15 Trials. Available in html format.

PEDro is a website devoted to Physiotherapy evidence. This is another web page and the studies are quite specialized. Each article includes a brief summary and links to an interview with one of the authors of the study.

Peter Greenwald and Barbara K. Dunn. Landmarks in the History of Cancer Epidemiology 2009 (March).69(6); 2151-2162. DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-09-0416. Available in html format or PDF format.

Cancer epidemiology is a very broad area and the authors talk about the sequential revelations of key research studies. Unlike the earlier lists, this summary includes a large number of observational studies, such as the case-control study linking cancer cases in women to prenatal exposure to DES and the use of NHANES data to show a link between HPV and cervical cancer.