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Second Opinion

Readers weigh in on the challenges of medical literacy and issues with replicating research.

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Proto winter 2014 cover


As a new cancer patient who is medically literate, I had trouble staying calm after reading “Comprehension Test” (Winter 2014). Some time ago, I was a writer and editor for the peer-reviewed CAPsules, and my job involved interviewing and sometimes negotiating with physicians. But after a diagnosis of breast cancer, when I went to meet, just meet, the radiation oncologist, I fell into a tornado. After a mountain of statistics and little conversation, I said yes to radiology. I was swept into the hall with a lot of people talking all at once, not looking me in the face to see whether I was clear about what was happening.

Breast cancer is not the only diagnosis that can leave the patient, however literate, completely overwhelmed, and sometimes unable to defend herself quickly enough, demand explanation or question what is happening. Only physicians can be sure that a conversation, not a lecture, is taking place. A fruitful conversation is for the physician’s protection as well as the patient’s.

Margaret Fleming // The Woodlands, Texas


The past 40 to 50 years have been a time of exciting advances in biomedical research. However, remarkable progress has brought with it a host of problems. As Proto has highlighted (“The Problem of Replication,” Winter 2014), the percentage of studies publishing data that turn out to be irreproducible has reached levels that threaten the financial and intellectual health of the scientific enterprise.

What may be needed is a return to the old view of science as a somewhat messy activity—human endeavors that rarely represent perfect discoveries of elements of truth, but instead are based on the use of imperfect models and hypotheses often built on sand. Studies minimizing observations that are discordant with a particular point of view should be considered incomplete until they are validated by further independent work. Based on these principles and the premise that failure is as important a learning element in science as in other human activities, the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine provides a forum for publication and discussion of conflicting, controversial or negative (in the context of current understanding) findings. The scientific community can only learn from negative results if the data are published. Balanced information—both positive and negative—is as needed now for scientific progress as it ever was.

Bjorn Reino Olsen // Editor-in-Chief, Journal ofNegative Results in Biomedicine

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