Same Data, Different Results

Most published reports of clinical studies begin with an abstract – likely the first and perhaps only thing many clinicians, the media and patients will read. Within that abstract, authors/investigators typically provide a brief summary of the results and a 1–2 sentence conclusion. At times, the conclusion of one study will be different, even diametrically opposed, to another despite the authors looking at similar data. In these cases, readers may assume that these individual authors somehow found dramatically different results. While these reported differences may be true some of the time, radically diverse conclusions and ensuing controversies may simply be due to tiny differences in confidence intervals combined with an over-reliance and misunderstanding of a “statistically significant difference.” Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can lead to therapeutic uncertainty for front-line clinicians when in fact the overall data on a particular issue is remarkably consistent.

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