Tag Archives: data

Repeat After Me

13 Mar

Quote from Science

Preparing for some upcoming work, I took part in a webinar on systematic reviews yesterday morning. It was a brief, but good, review/overview of the process and the roles librarians and/or information scientists have in it. One thing that stuck out for me was the reminder by Dr. Edoardo Aromataris of the Joanna Briggs Institute, one of the program’s speakers, that a systematic review is a type of research and as such, it needs to be reproducible. He noted that the search strategy ultimately constructed in a review should yield pretty much the same results for anyone who repeats it.

Replication is a hallmark of the scientific method. As Jasny et al state in the above-referenced quote from a special issue of Science on data replication and reproducibility, it is the gold standard of research. Science grows in value as it builds upon itself. Without the characteristic of replication, such growth is thwarted and findings become limited to a study’s specific subject pool. If a study’s design becomes so complicated and the research question(s) keep changing along the way, the study’s value gets clouded, if it remains at all.

I remember during my master’s thesis defense, one of my advisers asked me why I hadn’t done a particular statistical analysis to answer another question about the data I collected. I admit that the question threw me, but after thinking about it for a moment, I said, “Because that isn’t what I said that I would do.” My statistics professor, who was also sitting in on the defense, said calmly, after I hemmed and hawed and tried to defend my answer in a long and drawn out way, “That’s the right answer.” In other words, when I proposed my study and laid out my methodology, I stated that I would do “x, y, and z.” If I later decided to do “q” simply because I thought “q” was more interesting, I wouldn’t have necessarily answered the research question that I set out to answer, nor would my methods be as strong as I initially put forward.

I bring all of this up this week because as I’ve been sitting in on the weekly meetings of my research team these past months, I can’t help but notice how often new questions are asked and how often those questions result in an awareness that the data needed to answer them is missing. This fact then leads to a lot of going back and gathering the missing data. Sometimes this is possible and sometimes it isn’t. For instance, you might go to see your doctor one time and you’re asked the question, “Do you smoke?” But the next time you visit, the nurse doesn’t ask you that same question. Usually, you’re asked something like, “Are you still taking (name the medication)?” You answer, “Yes,” but you fail to mention that you’ve changed dosage. Or that your doctor changed the dosage sometime during the past year. Is that captured in the record? Maybe, maybe not. And further, some insurance carriers require certain patient information while others do not. If you’re drawing subjects for a study from multiple insurance carriers, you’d better be sure that each is collecting all of the data that you need, otherwise you cannot compare the groups. As the analyst on our study said yesterday, “If you can’t get all of the data, you might as well not get any of it.”

Now please remember that I am working as an informationist on a study led by two principal investigators and a research team that has being doing research for a very long time. They have secured any number of big grants to do big studies. They are well-respected and know a whole helluva lot more about clinical research than me and my little master’s-thesis-experienced self. I’m not questioning their methods or their expertise at all. Rather, I’m pointing out that this kind of research – research that involves a lot of people (25+ on the research team), thousands of subjects, a bunch of years, several sources of data (and data and data and data…), and a whole lot of money over time – is messy. Really, really messy! In other words, an awful lot, if not the majority, of biomedical and/or health research today is messy. And as an observer of such research, I cannot help but wonder how in the world these studies could ever be replicated. As that issue of Science noted, research today is at a moment when so many factors are affecting the outcomes that it’s a time for those involved in it to stop and evaluate these factors, and to insure that the work being done – the science being done – meets high standards.

More, as a supposed “expert” in the area of information and a presumed member of the research team, I’m feeling at a loss as to what I can do, at this point in the study, to clean it up. Yes, I admit that yesterday just wasn’t my best day on the study and maybe that’s coloring part of my feelings today. I didn’t have anything to offer in the meeting. I didn’t feel like much of a part of the team. It happens.

So can I take a lesson from the day’s events? The answer to that is equivocally “YES!” and here’s why…

In the afternoon, I had a meeting with a different PI for a different study. We’re exploring areas where I can help her team; writing up a “scope of work” to embed me as an informationist on the study. It’s a very different kind of study and not as big as the mammography study (above), but it still involves multiple players across multiple campuses, and it ultimately will generate a whole bunch of data from a countless number of subjects. The biggest difference, though, is timing. And this is the take-away lesson for me in regards to what brings success to my role. When a researcher is just putting together his/her team, when s/he is just beginning to think about the who and what and where and why of the study, if THEN s/he thinks of including an individual with expertise in information, knowledge, and/or data management, the potential value of that person to the team and to the work is multiplied several fold.

This is because it’s in the beginning of a study when an informationist can put his/her skills to use in building the infrastructure, the system, and/or the tools needed to make the flow of information and data and communication go much more smoothly. It’s hard to go back and fix stuff. It’s much easier to do things right from the beginning. Again, I’m not saying that the mammography study is doing anything wrong, but building information organization into your methods from the get-go can surely help reduce the headaches down the road. And fewer headaches + cleaner data = better science, all the way around.

Follow Along

7 Jan

blog bubbleI’m a HUGE fan of Twitter. I know that many of my colleagues, associates, and people in general still don’t get it. They don’t understand how a continuing stream of bits of information could be relevant to anyone. Mostly, I find that those who either don’t get or don’t like the social media tool always sum up their feelings by stating, “I don’t care if you brushed your teeth today.”

Concerns for halitosis and dental hygiene aside, these short-sighted and shallow accusations of Twitter are just that. But this isn’t a blog post to share the merits of Twitter. I need to write that piece for another blog (NAHSL) later this week. Instead, this is a very quick collection of BLOGS that, in many cases, Twitter led me to. In other words, the 140 characters shared by someone on Twitter ultimately took me to the following substantive resources that I check daily. The blogs themselves are not all updated on a daily basis, but I decided that this year I would put them into a folder on my bookmarks toolbar and look at them each morning. Anything new that these people write never ceases to inform, inspire, energize, and/or entertain. I share them with you here in the hopes that you will choose to either follow them as well, or perhaps create your own “Top Ten” to share with others.

  • Get Moving: Fitting Fitness into Your Day is the blog of Boston.com’s senior health and wellness producer, Elizabeth Comeau. You can follow along with Elizabeth on her own journey to live a healthy life, as well as find many links to important news stories related to health and wellness. Elizabeth gets the first listing in this list because today marks her one year “blogiversary”. Congrats, Elizabeth! You can also follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @BeWellBoston.
  • FUDiet is the blog of, admittedly, my favorite researcher at UMass Medical School. Librarians are not supposed to choose favorites (I think I’ve typed this before), but I have a bias towards Sherry Pagoto, PhD, a clinical psychologist and researcher in the areas of health, nutrition, fitness, depression and obesity. She lets me work with her, she planks in the Library, she makes me laugh. Ranking #1 for sure! Her blog and her social media movement, #PlankADay, are not to be missed. If you want to know the FACTS about health and fitness, follow an expert. Follow Sherry! @DrSherryPagoto
  • The Brilliant Blog is home of the musings of author, journalist, consultant and speaker, Annie Murphy Paul. Annie is a regular contributor to numerous news sources including Time, CNN, Forbes, MindShift, Psychology Today, and The New York Times, to name a few. She writes fascinating and thought-provoking pieces on the science behind learning and intelligence. You can also find Annie on Twitter at @anniemurphypaul
  • I started following Laura Vanderkam’s blog after reading her book, 168 Hours. I need all the help I can find, all the tips offered, to help me manage the multiple projects I have going on in my life, both at work and away from here. Laura provides these through her books, her videos, and her blog. Felling overwhelmed? Take a few minutes to read her stuff. You really DO have more time than you think. @lvanderkam
  • Librarians know Daniel Pink. Members of the Medical Library Association were lucky to have Dan speak at our annual meeting a few years back, as well as host a webcast just for us! When it comes to understanding people and how to put that understanding to practice in my people-oriented work, his books are at the top of my list. And his blog is a great way to keep those ideas going in between the publication of said books. @DanielPink is also on Twitter.
  • I would be remiss if I didn’t include my colleague, Donna Kafel’s, blog in this list. Donna oversees the e-Science Community Blog, a multi-contributor source for all information related to librarians, eScience, and data. I slip in a post there myself, from time to time. If you’re an informationist, a research librarian, any kind of librarian working with data, you can find a lot of relevant information here. The NER eScience Portal tweets, too – @NERescience.
  • Speaking of data, David McCandless and Omid Kashan’s website and blog, Information is Beautiful, is… beautiful! Leaders in data visualization, these guys regularly publish amazing pieces on all kinds of topics. It’s a fun stop in your busy day. Info=Beautiful, @infobeautiful
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education hosts a number of great blogs, but the one I choose to list here is Percolator: Research that Matters. From politics to morality to academia, Percolator is worth your attention. Grab a cup of Joe(sephine) and enjoy! You can keep up with all news from The Chronicle on Twitter at @chronicle.

And now, perhaps the two most important blogs to follow (save my own, of course!):

  • Because a life without music is no life at all, read Kim Ruehl’s blog for great writing on music and community. Kim writes regularly for No Depression, FolkAlley, NPR, and Yes! magazine. Though you can find her work at each of these places, I like to follow her own website. One-stop reading.
  • Ask Amy. Go ahead, ask her! She will answer. The Chicago Tribune’s nationally syndicated advice columnist, Amy Dickinson, is a sure thing for a 2-minute daily ponder regarding some important life lesson. Wondering what to say to your tacky neighbors (nothing, you McSnippy!), your whining children (just do the chores, you lazy kiddos!), the last guy to not return your calls after a date (seriously?! move on!)? No worries, someone has surely asked Amy and she’s provided just the right advice. If you work in a cubicled environment with other people (as opposed to being a zoo keeper), Amy can help you get through the days a little bit easier. Her memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, is also worthy of a list, just not this one. Even better, buy the audio version and Amy will read it to you herself. Follow Amy on Twitter @AskingAmy and catch her from time to time as a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

Yes, I can see that you’re hard-pressed to make an argument that each of these blogs is relevant to the librarian life, but this librarian’s life would be much less of what it is without them. Thanks to each of the writers for writing them!