Recommendations on Presenting of Statistical Results in Medical Literature

We encourage authors to avoid statements like “X has no effect on mortality” as they are likely to be both untrue and misleading. This is especially true as results get “close” to being statistically significant. Results should speak for themselves. For that to happen, readers (clinicians and science reporters) need to understand the language of statistics and approach authors’ conclusions with a critical eye. We are not trying to say that the reader should not review the abstract but when authors’ conclusions differ from others, readers must examine and compare the actual results. In fact, all but one of the meta-analyses provided point estimates and CIs in the abstracts. This facilitates quick comparisons to other studies reported to be “completely different,” and to determine if the CIs demonstrate clinically important differences. The problem lies in the authors’ conclusions, which often have little to do with their results but rather what they want the results to show. We encourage journal editors to challenge authors’ conclusions, particularly when they argue they have found something unique or different than other researchers but the difference is based solely on tiny variations in CIs or p-value (statistically significant or not).

We are not suggesting the elimination of statistical testing or statistical significance, but rather that all people (authors, publishers, regulators etc.) who write about medical interventions use common sense and good judgment when presenting results that differ from others and not be so beholden to the “magical” statistical significance level of 0.05. We urge them to consider the degree to which the results of the “differing” study overlap with their own, the true difference in the point estimates and range of possible effects, where the preponderance of the effect lies and how clinicians might apply the evidence.

It appears that readers of the papers discussed here would be better served by reviewing the actual results than reading the authors’ conclusions. To do that, clinicians need to be able to interpret the meaning of CIs and statistical significance.

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