Welcome to our first SSM blog by President Hazel Inskip
I’m delighted to be writing the first blog on our newly updated website. I hope you all agree that the website is much improved and easier to navigate. Our old website served us well, but we needed an upgrade. Particular thanks to Dorina Cadar and Hg3 for their work on this. We hope to have a series of blogs from various SSM members to bring different perspectives on our field, so do consider writing one. There will be some editorial control, of course!
Our ASM, joint with the IEA, in Cork has three talks from eminent speakers. All of them touch on topics dear to SSM’s heart, and in this blog, I’ll give some thoughts on them before hearing the talks. My take on them may be very different from the speakers, but the titles have inspired me.
As a statistician, I’ll start with the Pemberton Lecture by Ken Rothman “The End of Statistical Significance Questing”. At last, the idea of ditching statistical significance is gaining traction. I would have loved to be a signatory to the article in Nature earlier this year that challenged the notion so robustly. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a read: Scientists rise up against statistical significance. It builds on many articles in statistical journals, but Nature carries more clout, and the impact is being felt. The article focuses more on the concern about results where P>0.05, as large effects can be dismissed that way. However, there is also the drive to get a P-value less than 0.05, which has dominated research for decades. Years ago, I had to intervene when a rather forceful researcher was playing one statistician off against another. He didn’t like the analysis provided by the first statistician, as that had given a P-value just above 0.05. He was hoping that the second statistician might come up with a slightly different approach and get a lower P-value. When that didn’t work, he came to me to ask if I’d check their work. He certainly regretted approaching me! But he’s not alone, and this drive for a P-value below 0.05 has become so embedded that it will be hard to break. I’m delighted that the momentum is building. Whether you are fortunate enough to hear Ken or not, do take note of this and start avoiding using the term “statistically significant”.
In the Cochrane lecture, Margaret Whitehead will be asking “What is the point of doing research on child poverty and health?” It’s a good question. We know that poverty is bad, so why don’t we get on with addressing it, rather than researching its effects? I’ve no idea at this stage what she’ll say, but the whole concept challenges us all in research. There’s a definite move in epidemiology towards conducting intervention studies, once we have identified issues in observational research. Observation and intervention go hand in hand, but we need to influence policy more and get changes made. Health inequalities are not going away at all, and have been a challenge to the Society since the outset more than sixty years ago.
In her IEA keynote lecture, Valerie Beral, my first boss, is talking on the power of collaborative research in epidemiology. What a great topic. When I started working, I collaborated with medics such as her and that was pretty well all. She and the other medics taught me a lot, but since then I’ve gained so much from working with other disciplines such as nutritionists, psychologists, geographers, economists, social scientists etc. A single author paper in epidemiology seems ridiculous! SSM has taught me to think more broadly and I love the Society for the way in which it brings a range of disciplines together and enables us to work more collaboratively.
These three topics touch on three of the four SSM aims: “Promoting high-quality research and methodological rigour”, “Providing an expert voice for population health”, and “Fostering and facilitating multidisciplinary collaboration”. We also work hard on our fourth aim “Supporting our members across their career life course”, mainly through the endeavours of our ECR and MCR committees and now our new SCR committee, as well as our mentoring scheme. If you aren’t an SSM member already, do consider joining us.