Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Causal Inference: Better than Cocoa Edition

In today's headlines, a story about autism that communicates science so much better than was the case in the cocoa debacle. This is a wonderful example of how reporters and researchers can communicate research in accurate yet non-technical language. Reporters, researchers and press offices, take note!

First, the headline: "Preliminary study suggests link between inducing labor and autism." The wording does an excellent job of communicating that this is suggestive work. The headline appropriately makes no health recommendations, which would not be justified by this research.

Second, the reporting: "A new study suggests that babies born after their mother's labor is medically induced or accelerated might have an increased risk of autism. The study, published today in the academic journal JAMA Pediatrics is preliminary and does not prove cause and effect." Be still, my heart. Perfect. 

Third, the researcher's quotes: "Still, it’s a statistical signpost directing researchers to take a closer look at possible links between expediting labor — often it’s to save the life of the mother and child — and autism, said Marie Lynn Miranda, lead author of the paper and a University of Michigan professor of pediatrics and environmental informatics. 'We have a lot of kids with autism and we know the rates are increasing, but we don’t the causes,' she said." Professor Miranda describes the process of science beautifully. She found an association - a statistical signpost - that has produced a testable hypothesis that scientists can pursue with methods that can extract a causal relationship.

And she's from Michigan! Go Blue!