Four articles on PainSci cite Pereira 2012: 1. The “Impress Me” Test 2. Ioannidis: Making Medical Science Look Bad Since 2005 3. Statistical Significance Abuse 4. Science versus Experience in Musculoskeletal Medicine
PainSci notes on Pereira 2012:
A “very large effect” in medical research is probably exaggerated, according to Stanford researchers. Small trials of medical treatments often produce results that seem impressive. However, when more and better trials are performed, the results are usually much less promising. In fact, “most medical interventions have modest effects” and “well-validated large effects are uncommon.”
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
CONTEXT: Most medical interventions have modest effects, but occasionally some clinical trials may find very large effects for benefits or harms.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the frequency and features of very large effects in medicine.
DATA SOURCES: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR, 2010, issue 7).
STUDY SELECTION: We separated all binary-outcome CDSR forest plots with comparisons of interventions according to whether the first published trial, a subsequent trial (not the first), or no trial had a nominally statistically significant (P < .05) very large effect (odds ratio [OR], ≥5). We also sampled randomly 250 topics from each group for further in-depth evaluation.
DATA EXTRACTION: We assessed the types of treatments and outcomes in trials with very large effects, examined how often large-effect trials were followed up by other trials on the same topic, and how these effects compared against the effects of the respective meta-analyses.
RESULTS: Among 85,002 forest plots (from 3082 reviews), 8239 (9.7%) had a significant very large effect in the first published trial, 5158 (6.1%) only after the first published trial, and 71,605 (84.2%) had no trials with significant very large effects. Nominally significant very large effects typically appeared in small trials with median number of events: 18 in first trials and 15 in subsequent trials. Topics with very large effects were less likely than other topics to address mortality (3.6% in first trials, 3.2% in subsequent trials, and 11.6% in no trials with significant very large effects) and were more likely to address laboratory-defined efficacy (10% in first trials,10.8% in subsequent, and 3.2% in no trials with significant very large effects). First trials with very large effects were as likely as trials with no very large effects to have subsequent published trials. Ninety percent and 98% of the very large effects observed in first and subsequently published trials, respectively, became smaller in meta-analyses that included other trials; the median odds ratio decreased from 11.88 to 4.20 for first trials, and from 10.02 to 2.60 for subsequent trials. For 46 of the 500 selected topics (9.2%; first and subsequent trials) with a very large-effect trial, the meta-analysis maintained very large effects with P < .001 when additional trials were included, but none pertained to mortality-related outcomes. Across the whole CDSR, there was only 1 intervention with large beneficial effects on mortality, P < .001, and no major concerns about the quality of the evidence (for a trial on extracorporeal oxygenation for severe respiratory failure in newborns).
CONCLUSIONS: Most large treatment effects emerge from small studies, and when additional trials are performed, the effect sizes become typically much smaller. Well-validated large effects are uncommon and pertain to nonfatal outcomes.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Photobiomodulation therapy is not better than placebo in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Guimarães 2021 Pain.
- No effect of creatine monohydrate supplementation on inflammatory and cartilage degradation biomarkers in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Cornish 2018 Nutr Res.
- The CANBACK trial: a randomised, controlled clinical trial of oral cannabidiol for people presenting to the emergency department with acute low back pain. Bebee 2021 Med J Aust.
- Relationships Between Sleep Quality and Pain-Related Factors for People with Chronic Low Back Pain: Tests of Reciprocal and Time of Day Effects. Gerhart 2017 Ann Behav Med.
- Modulation in the elastic properties of gastrocnemius muscle heads in individuals with plantar fasciitis and its relationship with pain. Zhou 2020 Sci Rep.