Teaching award from the German society for epidemiology

teaching at ESOC 2018 summer school
teaching an interactive session on study design at ESOC 2018 summer school

The German society for epidemiology has an annual teaching award, i.e. the “Preis für exzellente Lehre in der Epidemiologie”. From their website:

Mit der Auszeichnung sollen herausragende Leistungen oder überdurchschnittliches Engagement in der Lehre der Epidemiologie gewürdigt werden. (…)  Preiswürdig sind innovative, originelle oder nachhaltige Angebote, ebenso wie ein besonders hoher persönlicher Einsatz für die Lehre.”

In short, anything goes in terms of format, innovation, personal commitment etc. However, there is a trick: only students can nominate you. So what happened? My students nominated me for my “overall teaching concept”. Naturally, the DGEpi wondered what that teaching concept actually was and asked me to provide some more information. So I took that opportunity and actually described what and why I teach, to see what the actual concept behind this all is. Here is the result.

The bottom line is simple: I think you learn the best not only by reading a book, but that you learn by doing, help in the organization and help teach in various epi related activities. You need to get exposed in several formats with different people. So I have helped set up a plethora of activities for the young student to learn epidemiology in different ways on different levels: read classics, discuss in weekly journal clubs, use popular scientific books  in book clubs, but also organize platforms for discussion, interaction and inspiration (yes, I am talking about BEMC). The most important thing might be that students should learn the basics for epidemiology, even though they might not need that for that own research projects. This is especially true for medical students who want to learn about clinical research.

Last week I learned that the award in the end was awarded to me. Of course I am honored on a personal level, and this honors needs to be extended to my mentors. But I also take this award as an indication that the recent and increasing Berlin based epi-activities I helped to organize together with epi enthusiast at the IPH, iBIKE and QUEST did not go unnoticed by the German epidemiological community.

I will pick up the price in Bremen at the yearly conference of the DGEPI. See you there?

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Cerebral microbleeds and interaction with antihypertensive treatment in patients with ICH; a tale of two rejected letters

ICH is not my topic, but as we were preparing for the ESO Summerschool I explored the for me as yet untouched areas of stroke research. That brought me to this paper by Shoamanesh et al in JAMA Neurology which investigates a potential interaction between CMB and the treatment at hand in relation to outcome in patients with ICH. Their conclusion: no interaction. The paper is easy to read and has some at first glance convincing data, but then I realized some elements are just not right:

  • the outcome is not rare, still a logistic model is used to assess relative risk
  • interaction is assessed based on multiplicative interaction even while adding variables could lead to other estimates of interaction due to the non-collapsibility of the OR
  • the underlying clinical question of interaction is arguable better answered with an analyses of additive interaction.

I decided to write a letter to the editor. Why? Well, additionally to the methodological issues mentioned above, the power of the analyses was quite low and the conclusion of “no effect” based on a p value >0.05 with low power is in itself a problem. Do I expect that there is a massive shift in how I would interpret the data when they would have analysed the data differently? I don’t think so, especially as the precision of any quantification of additive interaction will be quite low. But that is not the main issue here: the way the data were presented does not allow the reader to assess additive interaction. So my letter was focused on that: suggesting to present the data in a slight different way, and then we can discuss whether the conclusions as drawn by the authors still holds. Then, and only then we get the full picture of the value of CMB in treatment decision. The thing is that we will then realize that the full picture is actually not the full picture, as the data are quite limited and imprecise and more research is required before strong conclusions can be drawn.

But the letter was rejected by JAMA Neurology because of space limitations and priority. I didn’t appeal. The same happened when I submitted an edited version of the paper to Neuro-epidemiology. I didn’t appeal. In the meantime, I’ve contacted the corresponding author, but he did not get back to me. So now what? Pubmed commons died. Pubpeer is, to my taste, too much focused on catching image frauds, even though they do welcome other types of contributions. I know my comments are only interesting for the methodologically inclined, and in the greater scheme of things, their value is limited. I also do understand space limitation when it comes to print, but how about online?Anyway, a lot of reasons why things happened why they happened. But somebody told me that if it was important enough to write a letter, it is important enough to publish it somewhere. So here I am, posting my initial letter on my own website, which almost certainly means that no single reader of the original paper will find out about these comments.

Post publication peer review ideas anybody?

The original paper can be found here, on the website of JAMA Neurology.

My letter can be found here: CMB and intense blood pressure lowering in ICH_ is there an additive effect

FVIII, Protein C and the Risk of Arterial Thrombosis: More than the Sum of Its Parts.

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source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGMRLLySc4w 

Peer review is not a pissing contest. Peer reviewing is not about findings the smallest of errors and delay publication because of it. Peer review is not about being right. Peer review is not about rewriting the paper under review. Peer review is not about asking for yet another experiment.

 

Peer review is about making sure that the conclusions presented in the paper are justified by the data presented and peer review is about helping the authors get the best report on what they did.

At least that what I try to remind myself of when I write my peer review report. So what happened when I wrote a peer review about a paper presenting data on the two hemostatic factors protein C and FVIII in relation to arterial thrombosis. These two proteins are known to have a direct interaction with each other. But does this also translate into the situation where a combination of the two risk factors of the “have both, get extra risk for free”?

There are two approaches to test so-called interaction: statistical and biological. The authors presented one approach, while I thought the other approach was better suited to analyze and interpret the data. Did that result in an academic battle of arguments, or perhaps a peer review deadlock? No, the authors were quite civil to entertain my rambling thoughts and comments with additional analyses and results, but convinced me in the end that their approach have more merit in this particular situation. The editor of thrombosis and hemostasis saw this all going down and agreed with my suggestion that an accompanying editorial on this topic to help the readers understand what actually happened during the peer review process. The nice thing about this is that the editor asked me to that editorial, which can be found here, the paper by Zakai et al can be found here.

All this learned me a thing or two about peer review: Cordial peer review is always better (duh!) than a peer review street brawl, and that sharing aspects from the peer review process could help readers understand the paper in more detail. Open peer review, especially the parts where peer review is not anonymous and reports are open to readers after publication, is a way to foster both practices. In the meantime, this editorial will have to do.

 

New paper: External defibrillator use by bystanders and patient outcomes

source: https://goo.gl/HkZkV5
Main analyses showing the effect of AED use on several endpoints

In this paper, together with researchers from Harvard and the Institute of Public Health at the Charite, we used data from the CARES dataset to answer some questions regarding the use of automated external defibrillator (AED) in the United States.

It is known from previous studies that AED use does improve clinical outcome of those who are treated with AED. Less known is whether the treatment effect of AEDs administrated by untrained bystanders has a similar beneficial effect, especially because

1) so called neighborhood characteristics have not been taken into account previous analyses and

2) it is difficult to find the right control group.

This paper focuses on these two aspects by taking neighborhood characteristics into account and using so called “negative controls” (i.e. patients who were treated with AED but did not have a shockable rhythm).

I had a lot of fun in this project: i like when my skills are helpful outside of the fields that I am not usually working in. NOt only does it allow me to see how research methodology is applied in different fields, but it also help me understand my own field much better. After all, both AED and STEMO are methods that aim to deliver treatment to a patient as soon as possible, in fact “pre-hospitalisation”. If only a CT scanner could be that small… or can it…

The main lifting on this publication has been done by LWA. thanks for letting me join for the adventure!

The paper can be found on pubmed, and on my mendeley profile

BEMC has a Journal Club now

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After a year of successful BEMC talks and seeing the BEMC grow,  it was time for something new. We are starting a new journal club within the BEMC community, purely focussed on methods. The text below describes what we are going to to do, starting in February. (text comes from the BEMC website)

BEMC is trying something new: a journal club. In february, we will start a monthly journal to accompany the BEMC talks as an experiment. The format is subject to change as we will adapt after gaining more experience in what works and what not. For now, we are thinking along the following lines:

Why another journal club?

Aren’t we already drowning in Journal clubs? Perhaps, but not with this kind of journal club. BEMC JClub is focussed on the methods of clinical research. Many epidemiological inclined researchers work at departments who are not focussed on methodology, but rather on a disease or field of medicine. This is reflected in the topics of the different journal clubs around town. We believe there is a need for a methods journal club in Berlin. Our hope for the BEMC JClub is to fulfill that need through interdisciplinary and methodological discussions of the papers that we read.

Who is going to participate?

First of all, please remember that the BEMC community focussed on researchers with a medium to advanced epidemiological knowledge and skill set. This is not only true for our BEMC talks, but also for our JClub.

Next to this, we hope that we will end up with a good group that reflects the BEMC community. This means that we are looking for a group with a nice mix in background and experience. That means that if you think you have unique background and focus in your work, we highly encourage you to join us and make our group as diverse as possible. We strive for this diversity as we do not want the JClub sessions to become echo chambers or teaching sessions, but truly discussions that promote knowledge exchange between methodologist from different fields.

What will we read?

Anything that is relevant for those who attend. The BEMC team will ultimately determine which papers we will read, but we are nice people and listen carefully to the suggestions of regulars. Sometimes we will pick a paper on the same (or related) topic of the BEMC talk of that month.

Even though the BEMC team has the lead in the organisation, the content of the JClub should come from everybody attending. Everybody that attends the Jclub is asked to provide some points, remarks or questions to jumpstart the discussion.

What about students?

Difficult to say. The BEMC JClub is not designed to teach medical students the basics in epidemiology. Then again, everybody who is smart, can keep up and contribute to the discussion is welcome.

Are you a student and in doubt whether the BEMC JClub is for you? Just send us an email.

Where? When?

Details like this can on the BEMC Jclub website. Just click here.

new paper: pulmonary dysfunction and CVD outcome in the ELSA study

 This is a special paper to me, as this is a paper that is 100% the product of my team at the CSB.Well, 100%? Not really. This is the first paper from a series of projects where we work with open data, i.e. data collected by others who subsequently shared it. A lot of people talk about open data, and how all the data created should be made available to other researchers, but not a lot of people talk about using that kind of data. For that reason we have picked a couple of data resources to see how easy it is to work with data that is initially not collected by ourselves.

It is hard, as we now have learned. Even though the studies we have focussed on (ELSA study and UK understanding society) have a good description of their data and methods, understanding this takes time and effort. And even after putting in all the time and effort you might still not know all the little details and idiosyncrasies in this data.

A nice example lies in the exposure that we used in this analyses, pulmonary dysfunction. The data for this exposure was captured in several different datasets, in different variables. Reverse engineering a logical and interpretable concept out of these data points was not easy. This is perhaps also true in data that you do collect yourself, but then at least these thoughts are being more or less done before data collection starts and no reverse engineering is needed. new paper: pulmonary dysfunction and CVD outcome in the ELSA study

So we learned a lot. Not only about the role of pulmonary dysfunction as a cause of CVD (hint, it is limited), or about the different sensitivity analyses that we used to check the influence of missing data on the conclusions of our main analyses (hint, limited again) or the need of updating an exposure that progresses over time (hint, relevant), but also about how it is to use data collected by others (hint, useful but not easy).

The paper, with the title “Pulmonary dysfunction and development of different cardiovascular outcomes in the general population.” with IP as the first author can be found here on pubmed or via my mendeley profile.

New Masterclass: “Papers and Books”

“Navigating numbers” is a series of Masterclass initiated by a team of Charité researchers who think that our students should be able to get more familiar how numbers shape the field of medicine, i.e. both medical practice and medical research. And I get to organize the next in line.

I am very excited to organise the next Masterclass together with J.O. a bright researcher with a focus on health economics. As the full title of the masterclass is “Papers and Books – series 1 – intended effect of treatments”, some health economics knowledge is a must in this journal club style series of meetings.

But what will we exactly do? This Masterclass will focus on reading some papers as well as a book (very surprising), all with a focus on study design and how to do proper research into “intended effect of treatment” . I borrowed this term from one of my former epidemiology teachers, Jan Vandenbroucke, as it helps to denote only a part of the field of medical research with its own idiosyncrasies, yet not limited by study design.

The Masterclass runs for 8 meetings only, and as such not nearly enough to have the students understand all in and outs of proper study design. But that is also not the goal: we want to show the participants how one should go about when the ultimate question is medicine is asked: “should we treat or not?”

If you want to participate, please check out our flyer