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Understanding Clinical Papers
  1. A Katamba,
  2. D Newhauser
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4945, USA

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    D Bowers, A House, D Owens. (Pp 202, £19.99). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2001. ISBN 0 471 48976 X

    As the authors state in their preface, this book is intended to help healthcare professionals understand and evaluate the clinical research literature. It is not a textbook, but would be an excellent companion to a clinicians' journal club or as a review for graduate students. One of us (AK) found this book very helpful in preparing for his doctoral comprehensive examination in health services research.

    There are a number of good introductory textbooks about clinical research design and methods. What makes this one unique is the inclusion of abstracts, tables, or excerpts from about 50 real published clinical research papers that are used as examples. These examples make up about half the pages of the book. Each example, most often a data table, includes arrows and the kind of balloons for words found in comic strips. Inside these balloons are the authors' helpful clarifying comments. They are the best part of this book. The text refers to these examples and presents the concepts. The writing style is amazingly clear and does not require formal course work in biostatistics or epidemiology.

    Topics covered in the sections of the book include: who did what and why? (authorship, institutional affiliation); type of study (descriptive, analytical, experimental); description of the research setting and subjects and controls; description of the characteristics of the data, subjects and measures; ways of describing the results (odds, risk and hazard ratios, confidence intervals); statistical tests (linear and logistic regression, proportional hazards regression, meta-analysis and survival analysis); and how to interpret the results. Topics are included based on the frequency of their occurrence in the clinical literature. Other more unusual methods are only mentioned such as Poisson regression, Hosmer-Lemeshow test, and factor analysis.

    The bibliography consists almost entirely of the clinical research examples. It would have helped to have a separate bibliography of good “next level” texts for the reader who wants to learn more. This friendly informal paperback book is a bargain at the price and should have wide use. We strongly recommend it for beginners for its easy entry into a complex domain and to experts who we think will enjoy it and who will find it useful as they teach, advise, and help others.

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