Monday, August 04, 2008

Press Before Science

It's about 06:10 AM Monday and I'm checking the usual news feeds and stumble across this little tidbit that piques my interest. I read it and move to read the article.

Wait. What article?

It seems the American Heart Association has decided to publish this little "news release" before the article is published online on its Circulation website today.

Wow. Press before science.

One would think our professional organizations would be above this, but alas, no. Publication ratings are at stake, and hence, advertiser's revenue. And although the AHA boasts that only 6% of their revenue comes from corporate sponsors, it must be an awfully important 6%. You see, it's become too important to pre-feed the media and the throngs of news organizations hungry for the latest scientific tidbit with little sound bites from the author like:
“This is the first prospective study to examine light-to-moderate physical activity and the development of AF (atrial fibrillation),” Mozaffarian said. “The focus was on older adults, in whom most atrial fibrillation occurs: after age 65, almost one in five people will develop AF over 10 years.”
just to boost their journal's impact factor. With the wonders of the internet and RSS feeds, no doubt the study will be heralded on this morning's CBS Morning News before anyone with a scientific eye has a chance to read the study.

Hey, it's all about show biz, right?


2030 CST Addendum: Here's the study.... finally. My take: The study is a prospective evaluation of the incidence of atrial fibrillation from self-reported questionaires and several spot-checks of EKG's and hospital discharge diagnoses from ICD-9 codes. As such, there are many flaws in the study's methodology, including its means of detecting atrial fibrillation, but the message they convey is: "light to moderate exercise is good in the over-65 crowd:" not exactly earth-shattering, but probably sage advice. Unfortunately, their assertion that such exercise is preventative for the development of atrial fibrillation is a stretch:
Our findings suggest that moderate physical activity may meaningfully reduce this risk and that up to one fourth of new cases of AF in older adults may be attributable to absence of moderate leisure-time activity and regular walking at a moderate distance and pace.
Given the study design, clustering exercise levels into "quintiles," poor sensitivity to the detection of afib (single EKG and chart review?) and the self-reported nature of the questionaire end-points, I'm not sure we should leap to such bold assertions. Still, moderate exercise is good for lots of reasons, folks, so keep at it. -Wes

1 comment:

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

The same thing happened with the results of the WHI, and with the Star Trial, whose pres releases were conveniently released jsut before the annual shareholder's meeting and long before even an abstract was presented.