S&R Blog


This Article Rated “R” For Scientific Rigor and Relevancy

I’m one of those weirdos who most enjoys a movie when I know the plot or ending beforehand. 2001: A Space Odyssey? More interesting when you know the ambiguous plotline and can really think about what the surreal imagery and multilayered themes mean. The Godfather? More enjoyable if you’ve already seen the climactic, juxtaposed baptism/murder scene near the end of the film.

Often I’ll put a movie on my Netflix queue, then go immediately to Wikipedia to read the plot summary. And I just might take that DVD, watch the final scene, then view the movie from the beginning. Why? Well, I like surprises and plot twists and all, but I just find it more enjoyable to know the “end” so that I can better understand and more enjoy the “means”.

I got thinking about how this peculiar behavior relates to reading journal articles after seeing Teresa Rogstad’s recent AMWA Journal feature (2009;24(4):176-181), “Judging the Quality of Medical Literature.” In a succinct review, she lays out the key things (eg, study design, bias, sample size) to assess in determining the “methodologic strength” and “application usefulness” of published research. Now on my burgeoning “must-read” list for nonscientists in Pharma, her article might be of value to even the most CONSORT-literate folks.

Consumers of scientific literature might well combine my contradictory movie habit and Rogstad’s criteria by approaching their next scientific article as follows:

  • Read the Abstract (plot) to help assess the quality and direction of the study.
  • Read the Discussion section (ending) to understand the research implications.
  • Read the entire article to understand the data’s finer points and full meaning. As with a film, this method can help maximize the reader’s use—and dare I say, enjoyment—of the “story” that the writer and researcher(s) have crafted.

We at SRMC believe this assessment of the quality of the research “story” is crucial to the most effective use of published clinical data. And it’s one of the many capabilities that we offer to help clients who want to optimize the impact of the research articles they use to support their products.

So if you’ve ever asked yourself—Is this/that journal article good? or Should I cite this study?—we can help you find the answer. And if you have questions about how the movie ends, we can answer those, too.

Ted J. Slowik, PhD

Director, Scientific Information, S+R Medical Communications
teds@srmedcom.com