Call to (Broken) Arms of the Day

Jokes are far from unheard-of in academic papers, but an entire series of belly laughs is rare indeed. Run don’t walk to Hazardous Journey, the full title of which is "Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials".

Here’s a taster:

The parachute and the healthy cohort effect

One of the major weaknesses of observational data is the possibility of bias, including selection bias and reporting bias, which can be obviated largely by using randomised controlled trials. The relevance to parachute use is that individuals jumping from aircraft without the help of a parachute are likely to have a high prevalence of pre-existing psychiatric morbidity. Individuals who use parachutes are likely to have less psychiatric morbidity and may also differ in key demographic factors, such as income and cigarette use. It follows, therefore, that the apparent protective effect of parachutes may be merely an example of the "healthy cohort" effect…

The medicalisation of free fall

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…

There is a serious point here, of course, about the limits of statistical meta-analysis and randomized controlled trials. Kudos to the authors — Gordon Smith and Jill Pell — for making it so very well.

(HT: Reich)

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