The Study on Male Flu Was Made to Laugh

Hearing about this CNN , Time and the Guardian , you might think that this is a major medical breakthrough in the fight against “male flu”, once and for all answering the question whether men are weak in the face of the common cold. … But research on male flu stems from a bizarre April Fools’ tradition where real scientists publish scathing articles and news outlets use them as bait.

These articles are taken from the Christmas issue of the BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal). This issue publishes research every year that is, in a way, real science, but made for fun and not very rigorous. For example, if you really wanted to study male influenza as a widespread public health problem, you would probably put together a team of more than one person to do so.

Here’s a good example from last year: fun, innocuous research done with real scientific methods. It was a survival analysis (usually done on populations at high risk of death, such as cancer patients) applied to boxes of chocolates in hospital wards . The survival rate was low because the staff ate chocolate, okay? The analysis identified the least popular chocolates that survived the longest.

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It’s okay for medical researchers to laugh at their favorite topics, but BMJ sends out press releases on these studies. They make headlines because they are funny, unexpected, and highly interactive. News agencies reporting the “male flu” story varied in how they mentioned where it came from . Some, like Business Insider , put serious caveats in the headline. Others, like CNN, have reported it directly.

But most of us don’t realize that these are jokes, especially if we just see the titles scroll. It is easy to give the impression that we live in a world where researchers have made some groundbreaking discoveries about the human flu.

Every year, these studies drive me crazy about the way they are reported, but then I read them in a magazine like the creators intended, and they’re fun as hell . Here are some of the notable stories from the 2017 issue:

Doctor’s Failure: The First Signs of Doctor’s Fatigue? “It should look like an examination of the mistakes made due to fatigue. In fact, this is a collection of the funniest “doctor failures” from a group of doctors on Facebook. For example: “I said ‘I love you’ at the end of the call to the pharmacy.” and “A colleague of mine once inserted a dilator during a Pap test and told the patient to say ‘Ahhh’.”

Does Peppa Pig encourage the misuse of primary health care resources? – In this article, written by a physician who is also a parent (Conflict of Interest Statement: “It may seem like my child is sponsored by Peppa Pig, but any claims to this effect are false”), Dr. Brown Bear is heavily criticized for spending patient time and UK health care money for inappropriate home calls, unnecessary prescriptions and serious breaches of patient privacy, including Pedro Pony’s cough treatment in the middle of his preschool class.

Is pride preceding a fall? Longitudinal analysis of older English people. Did people literally feel great pride two years before they fell and got hurt? (They are not.)

The BMJ Christmas Edition is a lot of fun, but please, especially if you write or share the news, enjoy it responsibly.


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