Tuesday, February 14, 2006

One Study, Many Headlines

Today, papers across the country reported on a new study of hormone replacement therapy. Most noted that the researchers found "no overall difference in heart attack risk among women who took the hormone and those who did not. " The headlines, however, provide an interesting study on the vagaries of interpretation and the limitations of abstraction.

All of the following appeared on Google at the same time:

Final estrogen report finds no heart disease benefit
Heart benefit in hormone therapy: study
Study: Estrogen-Only Hormone Therapy Is Safe
Study: No Beneficial Link Between Estrogen And Heart Disease
Comforting News for Women Taking Estrogen
Little Evidence Estrogen Lowers Heart Disease Risk
Estrogen Might Help Prevent Heart Disease
Estrogen Therapy of No Value to Heart Health
Estrogen Might Help Prevent Heart Disease
Estrogen iffy in lowering heart risk

How can all these headlines refer to the same story? Well, of course, they don't, exactly. The negative ones focus on the overall finding across all age groups, which show no correlation between HRT and heart attack risk. The positive ones focus on the particular finding that
HRT may reduce risk of heart attack for premenopausal women between 50 and 59.

An object lesson in the need to dig a little deeper and not just rely on headlines for one's definitive news.

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