Sunday, June 04, 2017

Compression Socks: A negative-ish sponsored study result report that you need to be aware of!

Of late, publication bias has become a subject of intense debate. Among many of the deleterious effects it has, research reproducibility has become an important one. Because of pressure to publish and the perception that only publications with positive outcomes are appreciated, some in academy and industry have been known to contort results to make them look positive, or at least less negative.

You cannot really take them to task, as the forces of capitalism are biased towards success, and competitors as well as naysayers tend to take on the slightest negative news and turn it into bugaboos, confounding issues further. However, for the progress of science, results must be reported without bias. If you try technique A, device B or molecule C, and it doesn't work, and if you state the results appropriately, you will do two things:

1. If you are able to show why something didn't work as expected, you prevent researchers from trying that exact thing in the future.

2. Or, you give future researchers options to try other things, or through your reasoning, try different ways or improved ways of doing things.

At the end of the day, at least in healthcare, hopefully most researchers and organizations remember that our eventual goal is the betterment of human lives and not just profit seeking.

Therefore, researchers must be motivated to boldly publish negative results and data, and be allowed to theorize/hypothesize and collaborate with the scientific community at large to identify the causes for the negative outcomes. This takes support, especially from study sponsors, and this is exactly what Nike has done.

This morning, STAT led me to Eurekalert, to a Nike sponsored study on the potential beneficial effects of compression socks on runners, touted to reduce fatigue by reducing muscle vibrations, causing them to expend less energy. The study was conducted by researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and the results were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Annual Meeting, which occurred 30 May – 03 Jun, 2017.

The study had runners perform a 30 minute workout in a study setting, with heart rate monitors and imaging devices measuring their level of fatigue and muscle vibrations.

The Results

The study showed that there was a reduction in muscle vibrations. That is why I called the results "negative-ish". Please watch the video (link below), as Ajit Chaudry explains how, despite reducing vibrations, the socks did not have any effect on the three factors weighed, their fatigue, strength and jump height. Initially, before watching the video, I had wondered if the effect was a placebo effect. It is not. There are clear reductions in vibrations, it is just that the reduction is small enough, it doesn't have an effect. Of course, as the video suggests, there is always a psychological angle, that should not be ignored, especially with marathons, and competitive sport, where every little advantage, real or perceived, counts.

However, what is to be truly appreciated here is that Nike and the researchers did not back off reporting the results. This is very important and should be encouraged. As you can see, the results themselves are not too bad, and runners will probably wear compression socks anyway, and even if they don't, they will clearly have to realize that to lower fatigue, they will have to look elsewhere. It is precisely this type of reporting that we need to see on devices, drugs and basic research.

Further Action

They say, "reward successes and celebrate failures". Well, commercially, successes have the potential to be rewarded any way. So what about failures? Or, in this context, negative results?

Journals, Professional Organizations and others should consider instituting rewards to both sponsors and researchers that go ahead and publish negative results and data, and share related theories and hypotheses. A concerted effort is required to stave off the stigma of publications focused on failures, if the quality of our research and our march towards cures is to be rapid.


1. The STAT Article:

2. The Eurekalert Article:

3. The OSU Press Release:

4. Image Courtesy, Pexels:

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