Friday, April 3, 2009

Reporting results

Writing an effective scientific paper is an art form. It requires presenting a complex idea with about 3000 words. However, it is always the case that there are features of the study that are hard to describe cleanly with a small number of words. So what does one do?

If you go into detail then you inevitably confuse the reader. On the other hand, you want to produce the most complete report possible. Online supplements can help but only so far.

This happened to me in this paper:

Delaney JAC, Daskalopoulou SS, Suissa S. Traditional versus marginal structural models to estimate the effectiveness of β-blocker use on mortality after myocardial infarction. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2009; 18(1):1-6.

There were two effects going on in the same paper. One, we were accounting for time dependent confounding. Two, we were switching from a conditional to a marginal estimate. Both of these changes contribute to the differences in estimates.

But does separating them increase or decrease confusion? If the goal is to find an analytic approach that is equivalent to a randomized controlled trial then the reasons why are less important.

My question is whether I'd aid understanding by pointing these subtle points out or if I would enhance confusion by bringing in tangential points. To this day I question which approach was correct!

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