Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor:
Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA;
Journal Review Editor: Brenda L. Seago, MLS, MA, Medical College of Virginia
Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University.
A substantial portion of medical research is concerned with the identification
of risk factors for particular diseases. Establishing the validity of a risk
factor finding is a necessary step in the sequence of events leading to preventive
action. But, validation requires the finding to be revealed to the scientific
community either by presentation at a scientific meeting or publication in
a relevant journal. Peers can then endeavor to validate the finding by replication
or amplification. Nevertheless, not infrequently validation fails. Furthermore,
the ideal sequence of the validation process is frequently interrupted by
premature announcement of the finding in various media venues. Journalists
attend scientific conferences, scientists hold press conferences (frequently
organized by their affiliated organizations), and many major journals tout
their contents by circulation of issues in advance of publication. Consequently,
some “warnings” based on announced findings turn out to be false.
In True Warnings and False Alarms, Alan Mazur, professor
of public affairs in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, examines 31
cases of warnings of adverse health effects from technological innovations
to suggest ways to evaluate, early on, the truth or falsity of alleged hazards.
Winkelstein W. Risk. JAMA. 2005;293(7):870-875. doi:10.1001/jama.293.7.870-a