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A Folly of Interpretation: Having Some Fun

A recent news article entitled, “Kamut wheat reduced IBS symptoms, finds human study,” highlights what is so wrong with how research is often interpreted – that something less bad for you is therefore good for you.  Relating to our discussion about wheat, all of these research studies – whether they compare whole grains to refined grains, or modern grains to ancient strains – fail to do something so simple: including a third comparison group who ate neither of the grains being compared.  If that were the case, perhaps the headline would instead read, “Eliminating both modern and ancient wheat eliminates IBS symptoms, human study finds.”

 

To make a point and have some fun, I have imagined a fictitious research study and created a news article reporting on its results.  Here it goes:

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“Hitting oneself in the hand with a rubber hammer reduces pain and swelling, human study finds.”

 

Replacing modern steel hammers with rubber ones may reduce pain and swelling for those who strike their hands with hammers.  Published in the British Journal of Hand Pain, researchers investigated how using rubber hammers to strike hands can reduce swelling, bleeding, and pain compared to modern steel hammers.

 

The research was prompted by the team’s theory that the rubber hammer might prove beneficial to hand pain sufferers.  Findings showed that patients experienced “a significant decrease” in the severity of pain and swelling after replacing steel hammers with rubber ones.  Researchers at teams in both Canada and Italy found that using the rubber hammers also decreased the amount of bleeding and even bone fractures.

 

This is the first study that has provided evidence for the potential role of a staple household tool towards improving symptoms of pain, reducing swelling and bleeding and other discomfort associated with striking one’s hand with hammers.

 

Wiley Carpenter, founder of RHG (Rubber Hammer Global), who funded the research, said that the company had expected these results but were surprised by how strong the results were. “I knew we would see some improvement, but the results were quite striking…no pun intended.”

 

Over a six-week period in 2013, ten of twenty participants aged 18-59 years who were classified as having moderate pain from striking their hands with hammers incorporated the use of rubber hammers into these activities, while the other 10 continued to use steel hammers.  All ten of the subjects using the rubber hammers reported less pain, less swelling, and less bleeding. Many of the participants using rubber hammers noted that the practice still hurt, but that the pain was far less noticeable and easier to manage. The researchers said that while the results were promising, larger studies were needed in order to confirm this approach.  Carpenter noted that, “while the size was limited, such positive results can provoke clinical interest in more significant studies.”

 

The results of this study may serve to quell so-called “hammer hysteria” created by a Midwestern doctor who recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show discussing his book, Hammer Hands.  He claims that you shouldn’t strike your hands with hammers at all.   And that by ceasing to do so, one can experience complete reversal of hand swelling, pain, and bleeding, in addition to improved moods, less foul language, and improved piano playing ability.  The hand-tool industry has been quick to note that only those with arthritis should avoid striking themselves with hammers and that otherwise there is no need to cease doing so.

 

Gary Miller

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