Sense-About-Systematic-Reviews(1).pdf - One of the biggest...

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One of the biggest challenges within scientific research is to interpret the results of individual studies in the context of other research that has been done. This is especially important for decisions about whether a medical treatment works and for decisions about what further studies should be done. For example, if a recent small study appears to show that a treatment works or a substance causes harm, but previous good-quality studies had concluded the opposite, these results need to be looked at together. If we don’t do that, the dangers are: We can flip flop between opposing conclusions, as with press stories about chocolate or red wine being good for you or whether statins do or do not cause strokes. People can take notice only of studies that fit with their views, as with claims that homeopathy works, or that mobile phones cause cancer. We can fail to recognise hard-to-spot risks or benefits, which in fact show up clearly and quickly by combining studies. People can end up funding and conducting research that has already been done, which is wasteful and unethical particularly if it involves medical trials using human subjects or animal research. The evidence from a number of studies can be gathered together in one report which pools and analyses all available data to assess the strength of the evidence. These reports are called systematic reviews. Systematic reviews can: End confusion A systematic review pooling data from 24 conflicting studies on statins found no evidence that these drugs increase stroke risk and in fact strong evidence that they prevent strokes. Highlight where there is not enough evidence A systematic review on tonsillectomy as a treatment for throat infections showed no proper clinical trials had been done on adults so there was no good evidence arguing for or against this potentially dangerous surgery. Yield new insights by combining findings from different studies Combining findings from studies on cot death and baby sleeping positions from different countries would have changed much earlier the standard dangerous advice to place babies on their front.
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