Fact Checking Scoliosis

Written and reviewed for scientific and factual accuracy by Dr. Austin Jelcick, PhD and Dr. Matthew Janzen, DC. Last reviewed/edited on February 27, 2020. First published October 16, 2019.

Whether you, your child, your friend, or your family member has scoliosis, the first place people go when they need to learn about something is online. Even for someone without scoliosis who wants to learn more, perhaps during scoliosis awareness month, performing research online is the way most people find information. From infographics, to interesting facts, the internet has no shortage of websites, blogs, images, and social media posts about scoliosis facts.

Considering there have been numerous scientific and medical studies on scoliosis, and also considering good peer-reviewed scientific research is freely available online (via PubMedGoogle Scholar, as well as scientific and medical publications) you would think that finding good information about scoliosis would be easy. Especially these days where it is easy to fact check a news article or claim, it should be easy to figure out which facts and statistics about scoliosis are true, and which are unsubstantiated claims.

We have dedicated this page to various facts, statistics, figures, and other information that you might comes across online that is frequently presented as true, when in fact it is not. Some supposed “facts” may be overstated or exaggerated, while others can be outright false. From outdated research being cited to sensationalized headlines, we hope that this scoliosis fact check helps you in your search for accurate information. After all, only with good quality information based in solid scientific research can we make educated decisions.

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Not All Results and Research Are Equal

Unfortunately, even something as simple as a photo of a post-treatment result can be difficult to understand because information is left out or the result is not fully explained. Results may be short term, or the patient’s progress may not be tracked long term, without this being disclosed. A curve may be less stiff and more flexible allowing for better results but then said to be something anyone can achieve. There are a variety of ways results can be misrepresented instead of presenting them transparently so parents and patients can have realistic expectations. If results can be exaggerated, what about research?

If individual success stories can be misleading, what about research? Scientific studies and medical research can be difficult to read and understand, and some misinforming websites know this and try to take advantage. Quoting old studies without mentioning newer current research which may contradict the previous results is one way misinformation can occur. Scientific and medical research is always evolving and building off of previous studies, but how else can it be misused to mislead and spread misinformation?

Bad “Research” and Misinformation

One of the biggest ways is when supposedly “scientific” or “medical” research comes from non-peer reviewed literature. Scientific/medical literature and journals should be peer-reviewed: that is, read and critiqued by other scientists and doctors to ensure the integrity of the study and make sure the study was performed correctly, ethically, and does not have conflicts of interest. While studies can be retracted from peer-reviewed journals, and bad data and bad studies do happen, that is precisely why peer-review is so important:  it helps catch the bad while ensuring studies provide all the information needed for someone else to re-create or replicate the study and see if they achieve the same results. The more results are confirmed, the stronger the evidence for a given hypothesis (an educated idea about why something happens that can be tested scientifically).

Good science and medical research comes from peer-reviewed journals

As more and more evidence is discovered supporting a hypothesis, it slowly can become a theory (ie. the theory of gravity) where it is generally accepted as true; however a more accurate theory can always come along. A good example is how Newton’s theories on gravity eventually were found to be less accurate at describing black holes than Einstein’s. The entire system falls apart when scientific and medical research is not peer-reviewed, and publishing research simply becomes a question of paying money to have it published. From the old “cigarettes are safe” research put out by the Tobacco industry to modern “pay to play” publishers that will publish anything as “scientific research” as long as they are paid (ie. Scientific Research Publishing which has duplicated papers published in other journals, and accepted fake studies including one written by a parody generator), unethical non-peer-reviewed “research” is a huge problem and can make fact checking information about scoliosis that cites it difficult; especially when it is quoted by websites as being scientific and factual.

Sensational Headlines

Scientific and medical research can also be misrepresented and used to misinform by sensationalizing the results. Results can be misinterpreted and sensationalized by the media, with correlation and causations being mixed up or incorrectly explained. Good science can be spun to look flawed and weak conclusions or findings can be made to appear watertight  by the media, when in fact they aren’t.

Sensational media headlines can over-simply and misinterpret results

Another problem is that data and evidence can be selectively reported. This essentially is “cherry picking” the data to only show what supports the story they are trying to tell instead of showing ALL of the data. After all, good research not only shows what works or supports a hypothesis, but also what doesn’t work and what does not agree with a hypothesis.

Asking The Right Questions

Other problems in research can occur, from small sample sizes, to not using a “control group” to compare findings to, which can be problematic in early clinical research where studies may be retrospective. Retrospective studies look at past cases to see if there is a trend rather than testing a treatment. But in the end what it boils down to is volume (preponderance of evidence, or the burden of proof).

How many studies have looked at the topic? How many different researchers and doctors researched the topic and performed their own studies and tests? What did they all find and how do these results compare? There may be a couple studies that suggest cigarettes are safe, but when 95% of the other studies find they cause cancer, the overall conclusion of the research is pretty clear.

Look for the consensus: what do the majority of studies conclude?

As you do your research and educate yourself online, when looking for any facts about scoliosis always use critical thinking and analyze every “fact” and result you find. Where is the information coming from? What do they stand to gain from this research or fact? Is it peer-reviewed? How much research agrees with their conclusions? In the end, some facts may simply need additional research before they can be deemed 100% true. Others may be true based on current research, while others still may be completely false yet are being spread online as “fact” due to misinformation and misinterpretation of results. Fact checking scoliosis information can be difficult sometimes, but if you spend a little time looking at current research, it can make the process that much easier.

Ultimately any good claim or research will provide both the supporting evidence and the data that doesn’t support it so that the topic can be fully understood and future research can be designed intelligently. After all, scientific and medical discoveries aren’t made because every previous study worked perfectly. They are the result of years and years of seeing what works, what doesn’t, asking new questions and trying new ideas.