Hierarchy of Evidence and Vaccine Papers

Evidence is evidence, right?

Nope.

There is a hierarchy of evidence, from weakest to strongest, that help folks make decisions about science and medicine.

That’s why you can’t just search Google or PubMed, read abstracts, and say that you have done your research.

Hierarchy of Evidence

For any study, you have to review and judge the quality of the evidence it provides.

A meta-analysis with over 1.2 million kids found that vaccines were not associated with autism, while Wakefield's retracted case series included only 12 children.
A meta-analysis with over 1.2 million kids found that vaccines were not associated with autism, while Wakefield’s retracted case series included only 12 children.

Is it a case report (a glorified anecdote), case series, or animal study (lowest quality evidence)?

Or a systemic review or meta-analyses (highest quality evidence)?

“The first and earliest principle of evidence-based medicine indicated that a hierarchy of evidence exists. Not all evidence is the same. This principle became well known in the early 1990s as practising physicians learnt basic clinical epidemiology skills and started to appraise and apply evidence to their practice. Since evidence was described as a hierarchy, a compelling rationale for a pyramid was made.”

Murad et al. on the New Evidence Pyramid

What about case control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials?

They lie somewhere in between on the hierarchy of evidence scale or pyramid.

And there are other factors to consider when judging the reliability of a study.

“Ultimately, the interpretation of the medical literature requires not only the understanding of the strengths and limitations of different study designs but also an appreciation for the circumstances in which the traditional hierarchy does not apply and integration of complementary information derived from various study designs is needed.”

Ho et al. on Evaluating the Evidence

For example, you might also have to take into account the sample size of the study.

A study can be underpowered if it doesn’t have enough subjects. Unfortunately, even an underpowered study will give you results. They likely won’t be statistically significant results, but folks don’t always realize that.

Even a meta-analysis, usually considered to be at the top of the hierarchy of evidence pyramid, can have problems that make their results less useful, such as not using appropriate inclusion criteria when selecting studies and leaving out important studies.

All in all, there are many factors to look at when reading a medical paper and considering if the results are valid and should influence what you do and how you think. This is especially true when looking at low quality vaccine papers, many of which the anti-vaccine movement uses to scare people, even though they are often poorly designed, and several of which have been retracted.

What to Know About the Hierarchy of Evidence

Learning about the hierarchy of evidence can help you better evaluate medical studies and vaccine papers and understand that there is more to doing your research about vaccines than searching PubMed and reading abstracts.

More on the Hierarchy of Evidence

 

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One thought on “Hierarchy of Evidence and Vaccine Papers

  1. Who is funding the study and research biases must also be considered especially under the circumstances. For me I don’t need research. My body is the proof. I was injured bottom line. There are many many others saying the same and unbelievably so no one is listening. It’s kinda like the medical community often says “we don’t know the cause of this or that illness”. Well it holds true under the same. People get injured and you don’t know why.

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