Michael Htten / EieEm / Getti Images
A study published in a major medical journal concludes that the parachute is no more effective than an empty backpack that protects you from damage if you need to jump off the plane.
But before you jump on some unwise conclusions, you better hear the whole story.
The gold standard for medical research is a study that randomly assigns volunteers to try intervention or to go without one and to be part of the control group.
For some reason, no one has ever done a randomly controlled parachute test. In fact, medical researchers often use an example parachute when they claim that they do not need to do a study because they are so sure they already know that something works.
Cardiologist Robert Ieh, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a doctor at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, once got the wrong idea. He and his colleagues would actually try to study the parachute to make several choices about potential traps of research shortcuts.
They started talking to their colleagues on the planes.
"We would start a conversation and say:" Would you be willing to be randomized to a studio where you had a 50% chance to jump off the airplane with – in relation to an unmanned parachute? "" He says. "
Only a handful of people responded positively to this unexpected call and were excluded for the reason of questionable mental health.
Scientists have had much better success by searching for members of their research teams from Harvard, the University of California, Los Angeles (where Brother Ieh is a professor of surgery) and the University of Michigan (where a friend works) volunteering to participate in an experiment on other planes.
All in all, 23 people agreed that they either accidentally get a rucksack or parachute, and then jump from a double-leaf to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts or from a Michigan helicopter.
Courtesy of Robert Ieh
Relying on two locations and only two types of aircraft, the researchers had a rather distorted pattern. But such a problem often appears in studies, which were part of what I and his team were trying to make.
Nevertheless, the photos taken during the experiment showed that the volunteers were very happy to take part. "I think people laugh all the way to the country," says Ieh.
Oh, there's one important detail here. The fall of the study was about 2 meters, because the bicycle and helicopter were parked.
No one was hurt. Surprise, surprise. So it's technically true that the parachutes did not offer better protection for these ranger jumps.
"But, of course, this is a ridiculous result," says Ieh. "The right answer is that this examination has not shown any benefit because of the types of patients who were enrolled."
If they have entered people at high risk for injuries, they are people in in summer the results would be completely different (not to mention the unethical).
But something similar happens in everyday medical research. It is too easy for scientists who have already predicted the outcome of their research to choose patients and circumstances to achieve the expected results. This work led this idea to an absurd extreme.
The findings of the study were published in the traditionally carefree Christmas edition of the medical journal, BMJ.
"There is little parabola, to say that we need to look at the fine print, we need to understand the context in which the research was designed and implemented to correctly interpret the results," says Ieh. Scientists often read only the conclusion of the study and then draw their own conclusions that are far wider than justified by actual findings.
This is a real problem in science.
"I know people often do not look very detailed in what is being investigated to know how to interpret the results of the trial," says Cecile Janssens, professor of epidemiology at Emory University.
Janssens was thrilled to have encountered a newspaper on Twitter. She says, like many studies, that the results are accurate as far as they go, but "the results can be generalized only in situations where people jump from a plane a few meters above the ground."
She plans to present this document to her students with a direct face and see how much they need to get deeper points on the scientific methodology buried in this absurd experiment.
"It will be unforgettable," she says – far better than determining a scientific study that will move forward.
I am pleased to see that the fun he had with his colleagues turned into a teaching tool. He tasted some of the more subtle lessons buried in the papers.
For example, scientists have tried to submit it to the government's register of research studies, which is needed for many studies involving human subjects. They chose one in Sri Lanka to reduce the risk of being detected in advance, spoiling the joke. He was denied.
"They considered that the trial in this way can not lead to scientifically valid evidence," he said.
"They're right!" he adds with a laugh.
In fact, this paper confirms that members of the research team have so much attacked that "all authors have suffered significant discomfort in their belly of laughter."
"Our greatest achievement of all this was that we felt very good that we could quote Sir Isaac Nevton in the papers," he says. They called for Nevton's classic paper that established the law of gravity.
Yes, gravity is a law. Ignore it at your own risk.
You can reach the NPR Richard N Harris e-mail: [email protected]