Data Points

By The Editors / March / April 2002
July 1st, 2007


Newspaper reports on the benefits of mammography screenings rely too heavily on expert opinion and too little on actual scientific evidence, according to a study published in the December 18 Annals of Internal Medicine. The study, based on an analysis of 225 articles published between January 1990 and July 1997 in six major metropolitan dailies, found that the papers tended to exaggerate the benefits of mammograms for women in their forties and failed to note the lack of scientific evidence that screening women under fifty saves lives. "Just as scientists set standards for how they report their data," says Associate Professor of Community Health Kay Dickersin, coauthor of the study, "we're suggesting that newspaper reporting might also have some standard-setting."




Ignorance may be bliss, but does it lead to poorer mental and physical health? Brown psychology intern Christopher G. Beevers argues in a study published in the December 2001 Journal of Research in Personality that suppressing negative thoughts may make people feel better, but it promotes superficial thinking. Beevers says people who avoid trying to understand negative experiences now may lose out on the mental and physical benefits associated with intellectual exercise later. "If this is a chronic habit it could cause problems down the road," Beevers says.




Clinical trials of antidepressants exclude the vast majority of people treated for depression, according to a study by a team of Brown psychiatrists in the March American Journal of Psychiatry. As few as 15 percent of patients in a general psychiatry practice would be eligible to participate in a drug trial, according to Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Mark Zimmerman, the paper's lead author. "We're raising the question: are the medicines effective for those individuals that aren't included in the studies?" he says. "And that represents the vast majority of the people who are prescribed the medications."




Societal pressure often plays a critical role in promoting scientific discovery, a Brown-led research team contends in the Fall Journal of Health & Social Behavior. The researchers, who surveyed disputes surrounding Gulf Warвrelated illnesses, argue that public advocacy pushed scientists to search for environmental causes for Gulf War Syndrome and prodded the federal government to provide treatment for sick veterans whose symptoms were first written off as stress-related. Professor of Sociology Phil Brown, the lead author, says the message is that politically charged debate on the cause of a disease may needlessly delay treatment to people clearly exhibiting symptoms. "We're trying to show that the phenomena of scientific discovery move unevenly," Brown says, "and often in response to social pressure."

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March / April 2002