Life as an Extreme Sport

Hard Data Doesn’t Represent the Best Medicine

An article in the late February issue of Time Magazine on evidence-based medicine and why it might be a bad thing for doctors to fully rely on it reminded me of what has to be my hands-down favourite journal article, ever. Now four years old, it’s critique of evidence-based medicine is still one of the sharpest I’ve ever seen. From the BMJ website: Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

A Dr. Gordon Smith and Ms. Jill Pell decided to “determine whether parachutes are effective in preventing major trauma related to gravitational challenge,” utilizing prominent sources to analyze the data available, sans any actual randomized trial. Their conclusion is an argument I’ve heard against evidence-based medicine many times now, but never quite so succinctly as this:

As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

– Kelly Hills

[ed: please welcome guest blogger Kelly Hills, student in the Alden March Bioethics Institute MS in Bioethics program and doctoral student in the AMBI joint degree program being “taught out” by Albany Med/UGC and UAlbany Department of Philosophy; Kelly blogs for the Women’s Bioethics Project blog as well as keeps her own blog about ‘academia as an extreme sport’, chronicles of the [mis]adventures of an academic in training to work in bioethics. She is also working at AMBI in the Scholar slot and recently co-authored a Nature Medicine review essay on transplantation in the black communities of America. Welcome Kelly, who joins Stuart Rennie, John Robertson and others along with your editors.]

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.