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Offbeat

Celebrating science and inspiring the next generation of scientists

22 Aug, 16 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

Last week in Australia was National Science Week, a nation-wide celebration of science and technology via three key pathways.

Pathway one is to inspire the general public to be involved in science – creating new knowledge – through engaging activities such as Citizen Science. This year’s Citizen Scientists are identifying Australian wildlife that are featured in photos captured via automatic cameras, and anyone with internet access can participate whether they have a university qualification or not. This fantastic activity means that science is indeed inclusive, when many times it can feel like science is a members-only club.

The second pathway is through showcasing the contributions of scientists to the world of knowledge through the Australian Institute of Policy and Science Tall Poppy Awards. As the joint-Queensland 2015 winner of this award, I was delighted to attend the 2016 award evening on Wednesday and was pleased to learn about innovative projects across a breadth of disciplines, such as infecting coeliacs with hookworms, the sexual attractiveness of facial hair, and optimising agricultural irrigation to name a few. Next month I will be one of the inaugural Flying Scientists, bringing science to rural regions in which exposure to science can be limited.

The third pathway relates to a flurry of activities to inspire the next generation to be scientists – both today and in their future education and career paths. Recognising the importance of encouraging girls in particular to become – and stay – engaged in scientific pursuits, I was delighted to host the first University of the Sunshine Coast Growing Tall Poppies program in my research unit here at the University of the Sunshine Coast earlier this year.

Adolescent Risk Research Unit team members Jeanne, Jamie, and Natalie, mentoring Sasha, Isabella, Mikayala, and Sian.

The four Grade 10 students learnt about career paths through and in science, and conducted their own research project under the guidance of members of my team, before making a presentation of their research activities and the key findings before the senior school assembly on Wednesday morning. This presentation was very well-received by the students and teachers in attendance, further breaking silos such as ‘academics’, ‘schools’, and ‘science’ which can pervade.

Bridie with the 4 GTPs after the school assembly presentation

Bridie and the 4 GTP stars after their school assembly presentation.

If we are to continue to effectively prevent injury, we need to make science accessible to everyone, and to the next generation especially.

 

I love a sunburnt country

10 Mar, 16 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

I received an email this week from a friend and colleague, alerting me to a report recently released by the Royal Flying Doctor Service:  The Royal Flying Doctor Service: Responding to injuries in remote and rural Australia.

The reports on falls, burns, poisonings, transport accidents, workplace injuries, drownings, self-harm and assault, with Australians living in remote and very remote areas:

  • Almost twice as likely as city residents to sustain an injury, and 2.2 times more likely to be hospitalised for an injury;
  • Four times more likely to die from a transport related injury than major city residents;
  • 3.8 times (remote) and 4.2 times (very remote) more likely to die from assault than major city residents; and
  • 1.7 times (remote) and 1.8 times (very remote) more likely to die from suicide than major city residents.

Injuries are a leading cause of death and hospitalisation among children—more children die from injuries (36%), than from cancer (19%) and diseases of the nervous system (11%) combined; Indigenous Australians; and agricultural workers.

While, as an injury prevention researcher, I encourage you all to become familiar with the report and the findings, the email sparked two memories for me. The first was a conversation with US colleagues after I invited them to come to visit Australia as we worked collaboratively. If you search the internet, you will find many animals might try to kill you. We have crocodiles, irukandji jellyfish, snakes, spiders, and my colleagues could share many more animals-of-death. Having lived in Australia my whole life, I reassured them that the likelihood of them meeting an untimely demise during their trip was pretty low, and the good news is they went home in one piece.

The second memory – sparked almost instantaneously – was a flashback to my childood. During primary school we learnt the most wonderful poem, My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar, by rote. This stanza in particular has always remained with me:

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel sea,

Her beauty and her terror –

The wide brown land for me!

Despite the beauty of the poem, and that I love thinking about how this poem resonates with me, growing up in the country can be dangerous for many reasons, including the fact that medical assistance is not always close by.

p values misused

8 Mar, 16 | by Barry Pless

Don’t ask me why but I follow Retraction Watch faithfully. Recently there was a posting about p values I thought would be of interest to our readers and contributors. Here it is verbatim.

“We’re using a common statistical test all wrong. Statisticians want to fix that.

After reading too many papers that either are not reproducible or contain statistical errors (or both), the American Statistical Association (ASA) has been roused to action. Today the group released six principles for the use and interpretation of p values. P-values are used to search for differences between groups or treatments, to evaluate relationships between variables of interest, and for many other purposes. But the ASA says they are widely misused. Here are the six principles from the ASA statement:

P-values can indicate how incompatible the data are with a specified statistical model.
P-values do not measure the probability that the studied hypothesis is true, or the probability that the data were produced by random chance alone.
Scientific conclusions and business or policy decisions should not be based only on whether a p-value passes a specific threshold.
Proper inference requires full reporting and transparency.
A p-value, or statistical significance, does not measure the size of an effect or the importance of a result.
By itself, a p-value does not provide a good measure of evidence regarding a model or hypothesis.
We spoke with Ron Wasserstein, ASA’s executive director, about the new principles.

Retraction Watch: Why release these “six principles” now? What about this moment in research history made this a particularly pertinent problem?

Ron Wasserstein: We were inspired to act because of the growing recognition of a reproducibility crisis in science (see, for example, the National Academy of Sciences recent report) and a tendency to blame statistical methods for the problem. The fact that editors of a scholarly journal – Basic and Applied Social Psychology — were so frustrated with research that misused and misinterpreted p-values that they decided to ban them in 2015 confirmed that a crisis of confidence was at hand, and we could no longer stand idly by.

Retraction Watch: Some of the principles seem straightforward, but I was curious about #2 – I often hear people describe the purpose of a p value as a way to estimate the probability the data were produced by random chance alone. Why is that a false belief?

Ron Wasserstein: Let’s think about what that statement would mean for a simplistic example. Suppose a new treatment for a serious disease is alleged to work better than the current treatment. We test the claim by matching 5 pairs of similarly ill patients and randomly assigning one to the current and one to the new treatment in each pair. The null hypothesis is that the new treatment and the old each have a 50-50 chance of producing the better outcome for any pair. If that’s true, the probability the new treatment will win for all five pairs is (½)5 = 1/32, or about 0.03. If the data show that the new treatment does produce a better outcome for all 5 pairs, the p-value is 0.03. It represents the probability of that result, under the assumption that the new and old treatments are equally likely to win. It is not the probability the new treatment and the old treatment are equally likely to win.

This is perhaps subtle, but it is not quibbling. It is a most basic logical fallacy to conclude something is true that you had to assume to be true in order to reach that conclusion. If you fall for that fallacy, then you will conclude there is only a 3% chance that the treatments are equally likely to produce the better outcome, and assign a 97% chance that the new treatment is better. You will have committed, as Vizzini says in “The Princess Bride,” a classic (and serious) blunder.

Retraction Watch: What are the biggest mistakes you see researchers make when using and interpreting p values?

Ron Wasserstein: There are several misinterpretations that are prevalent and problematic. The one I just mentioned is common. Another frequent misinterpretation is concluding that a null hypothesis is true because a computed p-value is large. There are other common misinterpretations as well. However, what concerns us even more are the misuses, particularly the misuse of statistical significance as an arbiter of scientific validity. Such misuse contributes to poor decision making and lack of reproducibility, and ultimately erodes not only the advance of science but also public confidence in science.

Retraction Watch: Do some fields publish more mistakes than others?

Ron Wasserstein: As far as I know, that question hasn’t been studied. My sense is that all scientific fields have glaring examples of mistakes, and all fields have beautiful examples of statistics done well. However, in general, the fields in which it is easiest to misuse p-values and statistical significance are those which have a lot of studies with multiple measurements on each participant or experimental unit. Such research presents the opportunity to p-hack your way to findings that likely have no scientific merit.

Retraction Watch: Can you elaborate on #4: “Proper inference requires full reporting and transparency”?

Ron Wasserstein: There is a lot to this, of course, but in short, from a statistical standpoint this means to keep track of and report all the decisions you made about your data, including the design and execution of the data collection and everything you did with that data during the data analysis process. Did you average across groups or combine groups in some way? Did you use the data to determine which variables to examine or control, or which data to include or exclude in the final analysis? How are missing observations handled? Did you add and drop variables until your regression models and coefficients passed a bright-line level of significance? Those decisions, and any other decisions you made about statistical analysis based on the data itself, need to be accounted for.

Retraction Watch: You note in a press release accompanying the ASA statement that you’re hoping research moves into a “post p<0.05” era – what do you mean by that? And if we don’t use p values, what do we use instead?

Ron Wasserstein: In the post p<0.05 era, scientific argumentation is not based on whether a p-value is small enough or not. Attention is paid to effect sizes and confidence intervals. Evidence is thought of as being continuous rather than some sort of dichotomy. (As a start to that thinking, if p-values are reported, we would see their numeric value rather than an inequality (p=.0168 rather than p<0.05)). All of the assumptions made that contribute information to inference should be examined, including the choices made regarding which data is analyzed and how. In the post p<0.05 era, sound statistical analysis will still be important, but no single numerical value, and certainly not the p-value, will substitute for thoughtful statistical and scientific reasoning.

Retraction Watch: Anything else you’d like to add?

Ron Wasserstein: If the statement succeeds in its purpose, we will know it because journals will stop using statistical significance to determine whether to accept an article. Instead, journals will be accepting papers based on clear and detailed description of the study design, execution, and analysis, having conclusions that are based on valid statistical interpretations and scientific arguments, and reported transparently and thoroughly enough to be rigorously scrutinized by others. I think this is what journal editors want to do, and some already do, but others are captivated by the seeming simplicity of statistical significance.

Pless note: I would be interested if any readers disagree. Please outline your views in 20 words or less. (Just kidding)

Undergraduate research experience

9 Nov, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

I read an interesting blog last week in which two undergraduate students shared their perspectives after completing a research placement, and it prompted me to reflect upon my own research training, and how much of what we researchers – while it sometimes feels as if it is innate – is actually learned skills and abilities (oft by trial and error) that need to be shared with our up-and-coming researchers. Today I want to share a recent experience with an undergraduate student from another Queensland university.

I was approached by Sehana last month regarding the potential to gain some experience in research during her summer semester studies. I invited her to accompany myself and my University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) Research Assistant Ms Jamie Caldwell as we collected data during week four of the the first wave of an 18-month longitudinal study. Today Sehana shares her story:

When speaking to the placement officer at USC regarding a work experience in research, Bridie Scott-Parker was the first name she mentioned.  She thought the placement would be perfect for me especially because of Bridie’s extensive knowledge in research and having recently being awarded the Tall Poppy Science award for her research contributions. 
 
From reading about her extensive research online, reading a couple of her published papers, and speaking to her about her work, I am now a full convert to “the dark side of research” – as she calls it.
 
Throughout my degree I have done numerous research assignments, doing certain sections of a report for various courses.  You are always given data, or parts of the report are completed for you and you do the rest.  I have never been involved in any research related activities out in the real world. 
 
We visited a school, collecting and distributing surveys and sleep diaries to adolescent school children.  From the beginning there were issues that as a novice researcher caught me off guard.  The students came in drips and drabs, many did not have their sleep diaries, others had multiple from previous weeks, some students did not attend at all. 
 
I stood there the entire time panicking with “missing data” running through my head, while Bridie and Jamie casually took it all in their stride.  It wasn’t until I reflected on it at the end that my theoretical learning and practical experience actually fit together.  And it was exactly that – experience – which they had and I didn’t that made the difference. 
 
I could see that Bridie and Jamie both had enough experience to know the little things such as bringing spare pens and surveys.  It was when I heard them speaking about participant codes for the research that I realised my degree may have taught me how to do ANOVAs and correlations, but experience like this, out in the real world, surrounded by real participants (and real missing data) is invaluable. 
 
The first day of any job is nerve wrecking, but I feel this experience has taken away much of the anxiety associated with being a graduate fresh in the research field.  I would highly recommend to anyone who is leaning towards a research career to spend time with real researchers, speak to them, help collect data and just see how it all works in the real world. 

Ms Sehana Naz

Dissemination and implementation of best practice in falls prevention across Europe

28 Aug, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

As injury prevention researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers, we are all aware that falls are an important public health issue. Today I wanted to profile a novel approach to preventing falls. Dr Helen Hawley-Hague of the University of Manchester is the Scientific Coordinator of ProFouND, the Prevention of Falls Network for Dissemination, and she has shared with me some information regarding this innovative injury prevention approach.

ProFouND is a European Commission-funded initiative dedicated to bring about the dissemination and implementation of best practice in falls prevention across Europe. ProFouND comprises 21 partners from 12 countries, with a further 10 associate members. ProFouND aims to

  • influence policy to increase awareness of falls and innovative prevention programmes among health and social care authorities, the commercial sector, NGOs and the general public,
  • ultimately increasing the delivery of evidence-based practice in falls prevention and
  • therefore reducing the numbers of falls and injurious falls experienced by older adults across Europe.

ProFouND contributes to the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA), with the ultimate objective of adding an average of two active healthy life years to the lives of European citizens by 2020. ProFouND’s objective is to embed evidence-based fall prevention programmes for elderly people at risk of falls using novel ICT solutions in at least 10 countries/15 EU regions by the end of 2015, thus to reduce falls incidence in those regions by 2020. The following resources are available to support falls injury prevention:

  1. ProFouND Falls Prevention App (PFNApp), accessible for registered health care practitioners and available in multiple languages;
  2. Cascade training using face-to-face and e-learning approaches and available in multiple languages; and
  3. A free resources library, in addition to information regarding upcoming conferences, and other recent research.

Having seen the ramifications of falls in my own family, with my elderly grandmother fracturing both her pelvis and vertebrae in one fall, this program definitely seems like a step in the right direction!

 

 

Home safety and the prevention of falls

17 Aug, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Safety Centre has created a new online resource to tackle the number one cause of injury to children in Victoria, Australia – falls.

Targeting parents of children aged from birth to 14 years old, the site details simple steps parents and caregivers can take to prevent common injuries by age group, such as

* changing a baby’s nappy on the floor rather than on an elevated change table, and

* wearing protective gear, including mouth guards, when playing contact sports.

RCH Trauma Service Manager Helen Jowett says the frequency of under 14-year-olds requiring a hospital admission following a fall has increased by 29 per cent since 1998, at an annual cost of $18.6 million.

Most of those injuries occur in the home and behind those statistics are children like Ella, who had a tough lesson in gravity when she fell from a tree she was climbing in her back garden. The eight-year-old, from country Victoria, landed head-first when she fell, and was rushed to her local hospital where she was assessed as having a significant head injury.

Ella was promptly sent to The Royal Children’s Hospital by air ambulance for emergency surgery. After discharge, she spent several weeks resting and was unable to play contact sport for three months.

The new website shows that, unlike Ella’s hospital stay, safety around the home doesn’t need to be expensive, emotionally draining, complicated, or time-consuming.

Importantly for injury prevention around the world, the website is an easy-to-access repository for information regarding, and links to, useful tips and advice that can be applied in any home anywhere, anytime. For example, falls-prevention safety pertaining to furniture, and to bunk beds specifically, may have helped prevent my nephew from breaking his arm as a young boy.

Traffic lights…robots…robocops?

5 Aug, 15 | by Sheree Bekker

101st Anniversary of the First Electric Traffic Signal System

The early twentieth-century intersection was a strange scene. While the world’s largest automobile manufacturer sold over 20,000 cars a month in 1914, horse-drawn wagons and carts still crowded the streets, and accidents became increasingly frequent. Intersections in major cities were congested, and traffic was directed by police officers who stood in the middle of chaotic highways waving their arms–an unenviable beat, to say the least, especially during a blustery winter in the Midwest.

A solution to the problem was woefully overdue. Gas-lit stoplights appeared in England before the turn of the century, but these had a tendency to explode, and mechanically operated signs that displayed the words “stop” and “move” still relied on traffic attendants. Enter the inspiration of today’s Doodle, the electric traffic signal, which was first installed at the corner of 105th and Euclid in Cleveland, Ohio on August 5th, 1914.

~ Google Doodle 5 August 2015

My morning started with the google doodle above, which led (as is usual for me) to a tweet:

I have been wondering all day why I grew up (in South Africa) saying “turn left at the next robot” – which has often led to strange looks and hilarious consequences now that I live in Australia!

Wikipedia revealed that:

The etymology of the word robot (traffic light) derives from a description of early traffic lights as robot policemen, which then got truncated with time

While in South Africa this is simply a matter of semantics, it seems that another country in Africa has taken this likeness a step further. This same google search for the traffic light/robot connection led me to this recent article: Robocops being used as traffic police in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yes: large solar-powered ROBOCOPS!

A follow-up piece: Kinshasa’s traffic robots: ‘I thought it was some kind of joke’ – in pictures is fascinating!

These robocops were developed by a Congolese association of women engineers, to tackle the problem of traffic safety in Kinshasa in a novel way:

“In our city, someone can commit an offence and run away, and say that no one saw him. But now, day or night, we’ll be able to see him in real time and he will pay his fine” ~ Therese Izay 

Whilst I did not do a comprehensive search, I failed to find any research underpinning the Robocop initiative (if you know of any please share!). Sure, at first glance, injury prevention researchers will have questions about the issues potentially inherent to the robocop initiative – but many of us are also mightily privileged in the resources at our disposal (which is why the open access movement is vitally important), and, crucially, have never been to Kinshasa. Approaches to solve problems that have worked in some contexts will not necessarily work in others. The real world demands nuance, and is complex.

What this does show is that people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are willing to look outside the box to new innovations to make their cities safer. It is time to look at old problems in new ways. We often forget that innovation and creativity can be the lifeblood of academic research too. How can we all add little more playful creativity to our work to seek to find these innovative solutions? Bridie Scott-Parker has written here before that we should look for injury prevention ideas everywhere.

Perhaps this world DOES need more robocops after all!

 

Media and injury prevention

6 Jul, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

As an injury prevention researcher, I am often dismayed at the way in which injuries, risk, and injury prevention efforts are portrayed in the media. I clearly recall being disgusted as an idealistic teenager, having read a newspaper article regarding the untimely death of a peer who had been killed during a police chase. The police involved were vilified, and the article waxed lyrical about how the teen was a pillar of the community, which was a very different representation of reality. Since this time I have taken most media with a grain of salt, preferring to investigate myself, and to make up my own mind, rather than blithely accepting everything that is said, written and printed. I realise this is not the case for everyone, however, and the media has an amazing capacity to influence public opinion, which is highly relevant for injury prevention efforts in particular.

My post today was prompted by the publication of a paper in Accident Analysis and Prevention by Brubacher, Desapriya, Chan, Ranatunga, Harjee, Erdelyi, Asbridge, Purssel, and Pike. Brubacher and colleagues noted that British Colombia introduced new road safety laws focused on impaired driving, speeding and distracted driving in 2010, and examined the focus of the injury-related media during the period May 2010 to December 2012. From an injury prevention perspective, clearly these laws are designed to keep British Colombians safe – not just drivers, but others with whom they share the road such as pedestrians. Pleasingly 51% of reports which mentioned the new laws were supportive, but disappointingly 11% of reports were against the changes: in real terms this means that every tenth article during this time was NOT supportive of these injury prevention efforts.

To maximise our capacity as injury prevention researchers, policy-makers and practitioners, I believe it is vital to work with media as much as possible, clearly and consistently emphasising benefits rather than giving extensive airtime to perceived downsides such as being ‘unfair’ (downsides of which personally I struggle greatly to relate – I think being injured or killed by a distracted, impaired, and/or drunk driver is unfair).

Minimising dance injury through changing dance floors

25 Jun, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

As someone who has appreciated many dance performances (primarily as I have absolutely NO dancing ability or talent in any single speck of my body!), and as an injury prevention researcher and advocate, my interest was piqued by an article authored by Hopper, Alderson, Elliott, & Ackland recently published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Having been made for martial arts instead of dancing, I can still recall as a teen the difference flooring can make when you ‘land hard’ – bouts on a tatami were much preferred to bouts in a gymnasium with wood floors (too hard) or with gymnastic mats (too soft). Shin splints already irritated by running hurdles and leaping triple jump were further aggravated by both types of floors. Similarly, Hopper and colleagues note that dance floors have the capacity to contribute to – or prevent – ankle injuries such as ankle tendinopathies and sprains. In their examination of ankle joint mechanics, 14 dancers performed drop landings on five different floors. They note that “Considering the large mechanical demand required to stabilize the ankle joint during landings, floor properties that can absorb landing energy have the potential to reduce ankle joint loads.” Given that nearly 30 years later my shin splints can be aggravated simply by playing a game of basketball with my husband and children (I have decided that it is not simply due to ageing!), it is important to prevent injury wherever possible. Minimising injury is the next best step, although I really don’t think I can blame my shin splints for my non-dancing career path. Thankfully my career does not depend on my lower legs!

More background on our blogging team

19 Jun, 15 | by Bridie Scott-Parker

Blog 3: So today I wanted to share some more background on our blogging team. As an applied social psychologist, I find this information very interesting indeed!

What excites you about being part of the Injury Prevention social media editorial team?  

Sheree Bekker: The invaluable conversation that has sprung up around scholarly work through the collaborative power of social media and blogs inspires me to no end. I tend to find more relevant scholarly content through Twitter than through traditional platforms, and Injury Prevention has played a big part in that. As researchers, I believe that we should own our voice on social media, and constructively add value to this conversation.

David Bui: Through my studies in medical school I have seen the costs of injuries to society and individuals worldwide.  This is a great opportunity to harness the underutilised power of Social Media in health promotion and Injury Prevention, across multiple disciplines and multiple borders.

Angy El-Khatib: Being a part of the Injury Prevention social media editorial team is a great opportunity personally and collectively. By being a part of the social media editorial team, I am able to stay up to date on various topics within the realm of Injury Prevention while acquiring different perspectives from individuals from different backgrounds, disciplines, and locations. I’m also excited to be able to potentially increase readership and engage readers to create a conversation around the latest Injury Prevention research and ideas.

Klara Johansson: I am very interested to explore ways to share and disseminate knowledge and research results, outside the “old-school”, regular channels. I look forward to learning from my new co-editors, who all seem to be great communicators.

Joseph Magoola: The opportunity to work and collaborate with a variety of scholars on the injury prevention platform is nothing short of exciting. It also excites and inspires me to have an opportunity to represent Africa since low and medium income countries bear the brunt of the injury burden.

Julian Santaella-Tenorio: It is really exciting to be part of this team and to have a space to communicate and express ideas on ways to improve injury prevention, and to discuss about new studies and topics relevant to this field. I am very motivated to learn more and continue growing as a researcher as I walk through this experience.

What are you passionate about?

Sheree Bekker: Intersectional issues drive my life’s work, and my aim is that my research is, and always will be, an extension of that.

David Bui: Passionate about bringing people and ideas together.

Angy El-Khatib: I am passionate about translating scientific evidence and research into public health action. My goal is to improve the health and wellbeing of myself as well as my community. Outside of my work, I am passionate about health, fitness, and wellness.

Klara Johansson: Open discussions and innovative research in collaborative teams with high scientific ambition + high levels of tolerance and kindness; I also enjoy making difficult subjects understandable to students and the general population. Passions on my free time: nature, gardening, books, movies, writing fiction, playing music (clarinet, harmonium, piano, accordion).

Joseph Magoola: Writing on my social media accounts (facebook, twitter and my blog) as a way of reaching out to the masses. I am also interested travelling a lot, especially by road and as such, ensuring road safety is part and parcel of my aims to contribute towards reducing the carnage of our roads.

Julian Santaella-Tenorio: I am passionate about things that can make people have a better, healthier and happier life. I am inspired by ideas challenging previous knowledge, creative thinking finding answers from different angles, and the power of multidisciplinary groups. That is why I am passionate about public health research.

 

I hope you are looking forward to hearing from our bloggers, starting next month!

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