Yvonne Carts-Powell

Gravitational challenge: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials

In hilarious, Science on August 31, 2012 at 8:11 am

Parachuting. Photo by Acrylicartist.

This isn’t really a post about sky-diving. It’s really about medicine.

I am a big fan of evidence-based medicine. Requiring statistically significant and reproducible trials is a really important step in figuring out whether a drug or procedure helps most people. However, as the authors of this paper point out, insisting on the most stringent proof possible is sometimes ridiculous (and often impossible to achieve ethically).

The authors considered whether using a parachute will help you survive a fall out of an airplane. Given that someone lived after falling from 33,000 feet, they conclude that we can’t be sure that parachutes help all the time. And oddly enough, nobody is volunteering to be part of a study that involves throwing a bunch of people out of planes, some with parachutes and some without, to study the survival rates of each group.

To quote their abstract:”Individuals who insist that all interventions need to be validated by a randomised controlled trial need to come down to earth with a bump”.

To quote them further: “It is often said that doctors are interfering monsters obsessed with disease and power, who will not be satisfied until they control every aspect of our lives (Journal of Social Science, pick a volume). It might be argued that the pressure exerted on individuals to use parachutes is yet another example of a natural, life enhancing experience being turned into a situation of fear and dependency. The widespread use of the parachute may just be another example of doctors’ obsession with disease prevention and their misplaced belief in unproved technology to provide effective protection against occasional adverse events.”

Read more about it in the paper published in BMJ: Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials.


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