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Coyne: Does anyone read the classic studies they cite?

Discussion in 'Other Health News and Research' started by Esther12, Sep 3, 2013.

  1. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    Full paper:

    I'm sure I've seen others discuss this on here, but cannot find any thread about it.

    It focuses on claims that psychological therapies increase life-span for cancer patients, but it also makes general points relevant to CFS.

    I was going to quote relevant sections, but it's only four pages long, and is almost all relevant. These are the five main points, and I quoted the final three in full, as they seem particularly relevant.

    1. Primary sources, even classics, often go unread.

    2. Critical appraisal skills and the ability to apply
    basic standards for interpreting clinical trials are
    in short supply in psychology.

    3. Findings that are in sync with cultural beliefs and
    values can take on a life of their own, and
    dethroning these findings does not make one

    In the case of the claims made by Spiegel and his
    colleagues, as well as later commentators, the idea that
    patients should view their illness as a personal
    responsibility to be overcome through the hard work of
    psychotherapy appealed to strongly held values,
    particularly in North American culture. Of course, the
    study ought to have shown that patients can extend
    their lives. Didn’t we know that already, even if there
    had not yet been a study? Skeptics risk being seen as
    rejecting what we already know and as undermining the
    coping efforts of patients.

    Numerous groups had a vested interest in the
    results of studies being seen as having positive

    We often think of “conflict of interest” as more a
    circumscribed issue than it most likely is in practice.
    Beliefs are shaped by needs as much as evidence. As
    Lesperance and Frasure-Smith (1999) pointed out
    “Prevention of mortality has always been one of the
    most important factors in determining the allocation
    of funding for research and clinical activities.”
    Findings that psychotherapy prolongs the lives of
    cancer patients is extremely useful, even vital for
    advancing the claims of diverse groups, ranging from
    researchers seeking funding for
    psychoneuroimmunology studies to promoters of the
    virtues of mind control and positive thinking, most
    recently seen in the huge popularity of Rhonda
    Byrne’s 2006 book, The Secret. Those who see a
    benefit for the credibility of their own claims are
    going to have a stake in promoting and protecting the
    claim that psychotherapy promotes survival.

    5. A persistent champion can play a key role in
    promoting the value of an intervention in the face
    of contrary evidence.

    Spiegel and his colleagues repeated claims that the
    original study had shown that psychotherapy
    prolongs life over two dozen times in journal articles,
    as well as in numerous presentations to lay and
    professional audiences, and even on national
    television. As was discovered by Bernard Fox and
    others, critics were excoriated (cf. Goodwin et al.,
    1999). Moreover, one might have assumed that a
    consistent pattern of failed attempted replications
    would have caused a reevaluation of the original
    study. However, champions of the original study
    countered these new results by reinterpreting other
    studies as positive and of equivalent value (Spiegel &
    Giese-Davis, 2003), despite these studies not being
    designed to test whether psychotherapy improved
    survival and also having confounded psychosocial
    intervention with improved medical care (Coyne et
    al., 2007). There was a distinct bracket creep in what
    was considered relevant evidence, allowing portrayal
    of the overall subsequent literature as being mixed,
    rather than more uniformly negative.

    This is the conclusion:

    What larger lessons are to
    be learned? First, we need to read original sources. We
    encourage prospective authors to read carefully the
    studies they cite, even when there is near unanimity in
    secondary sources about the nature of findings being
    reported. Second, we encourage scholars to acquire and
    apply the critical skills needed to appraise the claims
    they find in published articles. These skills are sorely
    needed, and critical application of them can be an
    important contribution to the literature. But yes, if you
    take on the task of challenging entrenched, but
    erroneous, claims you must be prepared to take some
  2. SOC

    SOC Senior Member

    What!? They don't actually read the papers they cite? :eek: I'd flunk an undergraduate for that. What has happened to scientific research? :( Or is this just the psychotherapy researchers who don't understand the basics of scientific research?
  3. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    One of the real surprises for me on reading more CFS research carefully, and checking citations, was to realise how often cited papers do not support the point they're supposed to. It's something that other people here constantly draw attention to as well.
    Dolphin, Valentijn, Shell and 5 others like this.
  4. Shell

    Shell Senior Member

    Reading research papers has been a real eye-opener for me. So many published papers are so badly written. I get particularly naffed off with assertions made that have no references to back them up (usually, I think because there are no references to back them up). I can't help thinking those assertions can then be referenced in other papers because they were published in the first place.
    Some of the papers I've read I would not have accepted from a nursing assistant doing an NVQ 2 let alone someone supposedly qualified!
  5. Dolphin

    Dolphin Senior Member

    Thanks @Esther12.
    Finally read this - was well worth the read.
  6. Dolphin

    Dolphin Senior Member


    I think something similar may happen in ME/CFS with the appeal to medical and health professionals of rehabilitative therapies (graded exercise therapy, graded activity-oriented CBT, etc.).
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2014
    biophile and Esther12 like this.
  7. taniaaust1

    taniaaust1 Senior Member

    Sth Australia
    That's an issue with the CFS article at wikipedia (well at least was, I assume things there hadnt changed). Things written in good support of the things we know (which made that feel a touch better to us).. were backed by links which werent even to do with what they were supposed to support (not surprisely bad info links put onto info we'd support).

    Hence I think there is purposely deception going on there too about things and not always the case that the one who put the links are naive about what they were linking too or just a mistake (thou it could often be the case).
  8. biophile

    biophile Places I'd rather be.

    As we have seen with the PACE researchers, White and Chalder at least, sometimes researchers do not even bother to read their own published papers properly before citing them incorrectly to support exaggerated claims.

    Ain't that the truth!
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2014
    Dolphin likes this.
  9. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    There is a twin question to this thread: how do people read the classic studies they cite?
  10. Bob


    England (south coast)
    Esther12, alex3619, SOC and 1 other person like this.
  11. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    I like Coyne's articles.

    Here is an important bit:
    I wish more psychiatrists paid attention to this.
    Valentijn and Bob like this.

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