Coffee improves your memory
Eating breakfast helps you lose weight
Deodorants cause breast cancer
Vaccines do more harm than good
It can be hard to spot the risks among the myths. We are inundated with all sorts of ‘scientific evidence’ on a daily basis. Who should we trust? When should we get alarmed and take action? Epidemiology is the discipline that is supposed to provide answers to these health questions.
The public symposium, hosted at KIT Royal Tropical Institute on 18 June, 2019, challenged participants’ ability to spot the real risks among the myths. It also explored drivers and consequences of the decreasing trends in immunisation in the Netherlands and Europe, and teased out recommendations for epidemiologists from a panel of global health experts from Africa, Asia, South America and the Netherlands.
“Fake news” & the reproducibility crisis
Most epidemiological findings are genuine and make an important contribution to public health, but some findings are obtained from ill-designed, poorly implemented, inappropriately analysed or selectively reported studies. These ‘questionable research practices’ are partly responsible for the reproducibility crisis in research, whereby studies cannot be replicated by independent researchers, casting serious doubt on their validity.
Questionable research practices can have catastrophic public health implications. Vaccine hesitancy provides a case in point: many high-income countries are seeing a drop in vaccination rates and a surge in deadly diseases that were once thought near eradication. As vaccine hesitancy continues to spread in various shapes or forms, it could threaten millions of lives in low- and middle-income countries with weak and already over-stretched health systems.
So how can epidemiologists across the globe counter the reproducibility crisis? And how can they respond to ‘fake news’ studies once they have taken a life of their own and start becoming the public health threat in question? Ensuring good epidemiological practice is a suitable place to start.