Significance Magazine

Deming, data and observational studies

Journal Article

“Any claim coming from an observational study is most likely to be wrong.” Startling, but true. Coffee causes pancreatic cancer. Type A personality causes heart attacks. Trans‐fat is a killer. Women who eat breakfast cereal give birth to more boys. All these claims come from observational studies; yet when the studies are carefully examined, the claimed links appear to be incorrect. What is going wrong? Some have suggested that the scientific method is failing, that nature itself is playing tricks on us. But it is our way of studying nature that is broken and that urgently needs mending, say S. Stanley Young and Alan Karr; and they propose a strategy to fix it.

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