A critical appraisal of epidemiological studies comes from basic knowledge: a reader's guide to assess potential for biases.
Boccia S., La Torre G., Persiani R., D'Ugo D., van Duijn CM., Ricciardi G.
Scientific literature may be biased because of the internal validity of studies being compromised by different forms of measurement error, and/or because of the selective reporting of positive and 'statistically significant' results. While the first source of bias might be prevented, and in some cases corrected to a degree, the second represents a pervasive problem afflicting the medical literature; a situation that can only be 'corrected' by a change in the mindset of authors, reviewers, and editors. This review focuses on the concepts of confounding, selection bias and information bias, utilising explanatory examples and simple rules to recognise and, when possible, to correct for them. Confounding is a mixing of effects resulting from an imbalance of some of the causes of disease across the compared groups. It can be prevented by randomization and restriction, and controlled by stratification, standardization or by using multivariable techniques. Selection bias stems from an absence of comparability among the groups being studied, while information bias arises from distorted information collection techniques. Publication bias of medical research results can invalidate evidence-based medicine, when a researcher attempting to collect all the published studies on a specific topic actually gathers only a proportion of them, usually the ones reporting 'positive' results. The selective publication of 'statistically significant' results represents a problem that researchers and readers have to be aware of in order to face the entire body of published medical evidence with a degree of scepticism.