Newspaper Reports (Misleading)

Recently, a team of 3 researchers conducted an investigation to see if children’s post-surgical pain could be reduced by “audio therapy.”

In the study, the participating children were randomly assigned to two main groups. Those in the treatment group listened—after surgery—to a self-selected audio book or musical playlist. Those in the control group did not listen to anything. Each child in each group was asked to rate his/her post-surgical pain level on two occasions: prior to and immediately after the time the treatment group received the audio therapy.

A newspaper summary of the results stated:

Patients listening to music and audiobooks reported feeling less pain after receiving the therapy, according to the study.”

This sentence makes it seem that audio therapy worked for everyone who got it. Not so.

Data in the published technical research report show that most children in the treatment group said their pain was lower after receiving the audio therapy. However, some of the children in that group had more pain after audio therapy than before. Also, some children in the control group had more pain reduction than some of the children who received audio therapy.

The quoted newspaper sentence should have begun with 2 important words: “On average.” By adding those two words, the misleading sentence from the newspaper report becomes a true and factual statement about the study’s results.

(The published research report carried this title: “The effect of audio therapy to treat postoperative pain in children undergoing major surgery: a randomized controlled trial.” It was published in a peer-reviewed journal called Pediatric Surgery.)


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