Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How can we all best use scientific evidence?

There was a lot of news coverage today of a report produced by the (UK) Academy of Medical Sciences, reporting on an inquiry into "how the generation, trustworthiness and communication of scientific evidence can be enhanced to strengthen its role in decisions by patients, carers, healthcare professionals and others about the benefits and harms of medicines." The key statistics that caught my attention were that "In a survey of 2,041 British adults, commissioned to inform the project, only about a third (37%) of the public said they trusted evidence from medical research, compared to approximately two-thirds (65%) who trusted the experiences of their friends and family." [extract from the summary report] I was trying to find more detail on this study on the AMS website, but have failed so far. Everyone seemed to be rather surprised by this finding, but in fact I think it chimes in with results of a good deal of Information Behaviour research which shows that people rely on advice from trusted personal sources.
The report focuses on making recommendations about how the evidence base could be improved and how the various stakeholders (including patients) could contribute to better health decisions. It includes (for example) messages for communicators "We believe researchers, research funders, universities and press officers should work together to help make sure that evidence about medicines is communicated accurately. We also believe that journalists should be aware of the potential impact on the public of the way they report health stories. Journalists could be better supported to report the results from research more accurately by clear markers – such as a traffic light system - on health press releases. Training for journalists and their editors could also help, and good practice guidelines for scientists, press officers and journalists should be drawn up or better followed where they already exist."
The website with reports, "case studies" (detailed examinations of examples including statins, and the MMR vaccine) and short videos is at http://acmedsci.ac.uk/policy/how-can-we-all-best-use-evidence
Photo by Sheila Webber: heron, Amsterdam, May 2017

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