[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Mon Mar 20 23:17:57 UTC 2006

A couple of interesting points with regard to scientific/medical research
and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in particular:

Last year, a slashdot article was titled, "Study Shows One Third of All
Studies Are Nonsense":
It points to this JAMA article:

The researcher looked at highly-cited clinical studies and checked to
see which ones were contradicted or confirmed.  1/3 of them either were
contradicted, or had subsequent studies find that the effects were not
as strong as originally claimed.

Now, this was all studies, and if you separate out the RCTs they do
better: only 23% had these problems.  The summary finishes:

"Conclusions:  Contradiction and initially stronger effects are not
unusual in highly cited research of clinical interventions and their
outcomes. The extent to which high citations may provoke contradictions
and vice versa needs more study. Controversies are most common with highly
cited nonrandomized studies, but even the most highly cited randomized
trials may be challenged and refuted over time, especially small ones."

Just goes to show that science is a difficult and challenging process.

On a lighter note, Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly gave a talk last
week with a number of wild predictions about future science:

One of his less bizarre ideas is of his version of "triple blind
experiments".  Now, this phrase actually means something else, but in
Kelly's version neither the subject nor the experimenter(?!) are aware
of the experiment itself!  He means to make use of future ubiquitous
surveillance technology to generate huge databases that can be used for
after-the-fact scientific experiments.  I could imagine, for example,
doing some kind of nutrition study and getting the data directly from
supermarket and credit card databases of what people actually bought.
This would eliminate the reporting bias that plagues studies of this type.

Kelly seems oblivious to the rather enormous privacy questions this
kind of study raises (and my example is actually far milder than what he
proposes), but perhaps he is assuming that future societies will become
blase about this kind of thing.  So remember, Big Brother may be watching,
but at least you're advancing the frontiers of human knowledge!


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list