Reviewers' bias against the null hypothesis: The reproductive hazards of binge drinking
The Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology, Department of Medicine, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.The Canadian journal of clinical pharmacology = Journal canadien de pharmacologie clinique 01/2010; 17(2):e281-3.
We examined whether scientific reviewers exhibit bias in scoring a simulated "positive" study (i.e. showing adverse fetal effects) as compared to a simulated "negative" study on the fetal effects of binge drinking. The reviewers of the "negative" study tended to reject it more commonly, to give it lower scores, and there was significantly more variability from the median in their scores. Scientific journals should make an effort to eliminate this source of bias against negative results. © 2010 Canadian Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. All rights reserved.
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ABSTRACT: The relationship between scientific knowledge and legal discourse is raised once again by a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, a case involving a young Aboriginal woman who was pregnant and ordered by the court to remain in a drug treatment program at a health center until the baby was born. Her glue-sniffing habit was deemed dangerous to the normal development of the fetus. The Court held that her solvent-dependency did not justify the original court action, but both the Court and the various interveners disregarded the current state of our knowledge on the fetal syndromes. There is thus a continuing disconnect between the scientific understanding of fetal risk and the development of Constitutional law around women's reproductive rights. This paper reviews the case and follows it through the appellate process; we examine the research literature on fetal syndromes tracking the changes over time. Finally we comment on the interventions by the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the Women's Health Rights Coalition, by The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and both The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League and the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund.
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ABSTRACT: There is ongoing debate about the risks to the fetus associated with maternal binge drinking. This makes it difficult to counsel patients about the potential risks associated with their use of alcohol during pregnancy. This article reviews the literature on animal and human studies regarding binge drinking (four to five drinks at one time in humans, or the equivalent in laboratory animals). Animal studies provide evidence that high doses of alcohol over a short period of time can be more damaging than lower doses over a long period of time. Human data are more inconsistent, especially in terms of the association with malformations. Although neurobehavioral effects are the most commonly reported adverse outcome, some studies do not find such an association. Conclusions are confounded by the design of many studies, which fail to document pattern and total amount of alcohol consumption at one time. In addition, it has been suggested there is a bias against the null effect in publications. Although the evidence in humans is not conclusive, the incidence of binge exposures in pregnancy is high, and it appears prudent to counsel patients to avoid this exposure whenever possible. Women inadvertently exposed to a single binge episode of alcohol early in the first trimester before pregnancy recognition can be reassured that the risks for adverse effects in their baby are likely low if they are able to discontinue use for the duration of the pregnancy. Unfortunately, there may be some residual fetal risk.
Article: Science behind reviewing
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