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J. Harry Caufield

I read this Newsweek article about negative results this morning. It's not bad as far as mainstream science and medicine reporting goes, though that's admittedly a low bar to clear.

It's obvious that negative results need to be published. The urgency is especially clear when those negative results could have direct implications for health.

Even so, I was struck by the metaphor used in a JAMA article the Newsweek piece quoted:
“In baseball, it is easy to find out just how well Cal Ripken has hit against various pitchers in the past, at home or away games, in recent weeks or during his career,” Dickersin and Rennie wrote. “Yet in medicine, there is no comprehensive source for finding out similar, accurate statistics for medical interventions. How can baseball be better organized and keep better records than medical science?”
The comparison really triggers some knee-jerk pedandry for me. Yes, the authors are being a bit tounge-in-cheek. It still isn't a fair comparison at all. Baseball has clearly defined rules which haven't changed much over the last century. We can compare batting averages from 1914 with those from 2014 and understand what the values mean in both contexts. There really isn't a way to do that with medical treatments other than whether patients lived or died (even that is a moving target, and a recursive one at that since medical science impacts life expectancy). Truly useful long-term results may take decades to obtain. Most baseball games don't take that long.