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Friday, February 8, 2013

bvFTD Research in General

There should be proper review before publication.
This is my opinion about an opinion of mine I published in my previous post to this blog. I made the comment questioning publication of some Memantine research in my previous post regarding a research article published in The Lancet. I was thinking about research in general, and research journals, and change. The internet, and social media, and to some extent even traditional media outlets have changed drastically how research is perceived. The fact that research is perceived at all constitutes a change.

As soon as some study which affords some interest is published in a scientific journal it is picked up by social media, and repeated in many places. I frequently do this on this blog. Within days of an article being published it gets widely circulated. Often, as here in my own blog, the people who are repeating the study add their own interpretation or commentary. Frequently after a studies results are repeated enough times it is accepted as fact by general readers, even though the research is preliminary. Other researchers know better. There are newsletters published online, and distributed almost instantaneously through email, which are published by organizations that by their very name give a perception of legitimacy and truth to any research results they report. This is a great way to get information to those who are interested, but readers must be aware that they are often reading about very preliminary research, and the findings are to be examined, and questioned, but never blindly accepted.

Social media, and the internet, have made the dissemination of research information fast and easy. Unfortunately that is not the way science, and scientific journals, are meant to work. The internet has changed the way research is reported, but the journals have not changed to keep pace. That is just fine because the purpose of scientific publications is not to drive social media. Social media drives itself.

Here is the way I think the process is supposed to work, and how I think it has become broken. It used to be that a study was published in a journal, and about the only people who read it were other researchers in that field. Boring stuff for boring people. These researchers evaluated the published research, and if they were skeptical tried to replicate it, or if they agreed with the findings tried to expand on it. A few large newspapers had technical writers on staff who watched for anything significant to report that was published in the journals, but these were trained and experienced writers who understood the scientific process. In most cases a "scientific breakthrough" was not reported in the mass media until there was a formal press release. This was after the research was tested, reviewed, replicated, and generally believed to be valid.

This process is still going on today. This is what scientific journals are for. They are publications written by researchers in their field for other researchers. They are not, nor were they ever, meant as a vehicle to release information to the masses. Quietly in the background at universities all over the world research is plodding forward as it always has.

Times have changed, even though the research methodology, journals, and their purpose have not. With the coming of "the information age", and the universal influence of the internet along with the proliferation of social media, even obscure articles can be widely distributed. Anyone can add their interpretation to research, and report on it. Anyone on the internet can take a boring article, and sensationalize it. The boring becomes suddenly interesting. It is no longer researchers writing for other researchers, and being read only by other researchers. Now it is researchers still writing for other researchers, but being read by everyone.

So, I wrote all of this because of a comment to my last post made by Cindy. In her comment she agreed with my interpretation of the study on Memantine, and questioned its worthiness for publication in The Lancet. I questioned it myself in the post. That comment really got me thinking about all this. I came to the conclusion that the research should have been published, even though I question the validity of the findings. It is decent research as far as it goes. It is meant for other researchers, and they should know how to interpret it better than I. I do not believe that any competent researcher or doctor in the field would use this study as a basis to discontinue research, or for prescribing, nor to make recommendations or generalizations about the use of Memantine in treating bvFTD.

So, after all that, I guess what I am saying is: No! Journals such as The Lancet should not change their formats because of the influence of social media and the internet. Instead we, as educated consumers, need to learn how to interpret the research that is published, and remember not to go running around shouting, "The sky is falling!", or "The goose just laid a golden egg!", with every new study. Social media, and others writing on the internet, should continue spreading the news about current research to anyone who may be interested, but those interested need to understand exactly what it is they are reading. I plan to continue reporting on any new research I may find of interest, and adding my own interpretations and comments. Anyone with bvFTD desperately wants a cure to be found, and any promising line of research brings optimism and new hope. Some days that is all we have.

Some days are better than others.

(In most of their senses, there is no difference between skeptic and sceptic. Skeptic is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and sceptic is preferred in the main varieties of English from outside North America. This extends to all derivatives, including sceptical/skeptical and scepticism/skepticism. There is an exception, though: In reference to some 21st-century strains of scientific skepticism, writers and publications from outside North America often use the spellings with the k)

Be a skeptic when reading anything about research on the internet.

Comments are welcome.

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