By Len Monheit
I’ve decided to continue on a theme from last week and to discuss rationale for reporting certain findings, events and issues. Last week, it was practices or headlines that detract from industry and its potential, rationalizing that negative headlines and observations is part of the reality that we need to deal with, the message that consumers, regulators or legislators are either delivering or receiving, typically through mainstream sources, and for us to ignore this would be to ignore a major market force that impacts us directly and seriously.
A similar argument can be made to the presentation of scientific information. Most of us recognize that there are obvious tiers to the legitimacy and credibility of the science, although when presented in press releases and other forums, it can become exceptionally difficult to properly qualify the science in question. Whether the report is anecdotal, a lab assay, an animal study, a small scale non-blinded, study, a review, meta-analysis or full scale clinical trial, all of the results, from a communication standpoint, do bear mentioning. I realize the purists will say that only the gold standard, randomized placebo controlled, properly powered study should be reported, but if you’re really trying to inform the larger collective community about the state of science, then I suggest that one can argue that all of the above deserve legitimately to be communicated – to the appropriate audience, and certainly in the right context.
I can hear it now – the argument about how you cannot place a gold standard study next to a screening assay. And technically I do agree, at least you can’t without appropriate qualifiers, and that action of training your audience to be more discerning in how they interpret and then act on the results you present to them.
One of the realities we must face is that in this hyper-communicative age, it’s relatively easy to distort or overplay the significance of a result, or to misrepresent the result and apply to your own business when it has no relevance. One example that comes to mind is a study about a year ago on a proprietary ginseng extract with some positive immune support findings. Mainstream media responded by generalizing the result to ginseng, and companies ‘within our industry’ exploited the situation to leverage the results for their own non-studied ginseng products.
It’s pretty obvious that whatever the scientific rationale, someone in the sector will take advantage, misrepresent or exploit it. I would argue that this is not only not a reason to avoid reporting certain findings (especially early stage or animal studies), but in fact is even more of rationale to report and qualify the key aspects of the findings including limitations. After all, as we seek new money investing in our sector, it is often these early results that trigger the interest of capital sources, or new collaborative research engagements or even new research pathways entirely.
In this age of hyper-communication, we must learn new ways of ‘effective’ communication to raise baseline understanding, not only within our sector, but even more importantly, for those outside and looking in. With new tools available through technology and information access, sharing and management, it becomes incumbent upon us, as industry, to gather, organize and manage the information that is relevant to our business, and I fundamentally maintain that this information qualifies as such. Once again, it means we must provide the context, the framework in which results and observations can be presented and understood.
To close out this week’s rant, and for those of you who receive our e-newsletters and our recounting of the state of science from presentations, to animal studies, and yes also for some company-funded (oh, that necessary evil that frequently drives the ship) clinical trials, we will continue to provide that information, in the daily e-newsletter environment, attempting to (in headlines where appropriate) provide a bit of context to the findings. Similarly, if the study results present negatively (or even positively for that matter), and there is additional qualifying information that you, our audience, feel should be presented alongside or in an associated format, let us know and we’ll gladly consider it.
We look forward to hearing from you.