It’s OK to be Negative

Image courtesy of Flickr user  (creative commons)

Image courtesy of Flickr user  (creative commons)

the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore, MD

Who wants to hear negative news?  I’ve come to believe that physicians do and that we all should.  I’m talking about negative studies, which reporters of all stripes have a tendency to overlook in favor of a study with postive results.  I’ve heard it countless times in the press rooms of medical meetings: “Yeah, but it’s a negative study.  I’m not going to write it up.”

I have to admit that I never paid much attention to this tendency myself until I started covering oncology—a world in which a treatment or drug failure is big news.  I think that the reason for this is two-fold.  First, oncologists really care about adding to their armamentarium.  Second, sadly oncology drugs are big business and the failure of an anticipated drug can mean the exchange of millions of dollars on Wall Street.

But there’s another reason why we all should care about negative studies—-and why some of us should do a better job of reporting them.  In science —and medicine—we learn more from our failures than from our successes.  Every successful treatment out there has some negative experiments or studies to thank.  Each failure not only takes us one step closer to success but has practical implications for how to treat patients right now.  I was reminded of this today as a I sat through a session with only one positive study reported.

So from now on, I promise to be a little more negative.

—Kerri Wachter

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Filed under Oncology, Pediatrics, Uncategorized

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