Giving the Public A Headache – Part 4: The Half-Life of Facts


This post is celebratory of all the children, parents, and professionals who are able to successfully jump through hoops that are placed in the way of accessing needed care for visual problems.  As we have pointed out in our blogs, non-optometrists continue to misguide the public on the relationship between vision and performance.  The latest hoop was thrown up by the American Academy of Ophthalmology in a press release touting that children’s headaches rarely indicate the need for glasses.  I’ve pointed out the obvious flaws of the release in Part 2 and Part 3.

As I was reviewing this press release with my staff at our morning meeting, the tagline of the AAO caught my eye: Eye health care is provided by the three “O’s” – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians.  It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all …

Why this need to lay claim to “treating it all”?  Because in the losing battle it has faced to thwart the expansion of Optometric Scope of Practice, the AAO is pushing back by asserting its eminence in all domains of vision care.  Bear in mind that in 2004, the AAO took the unprecedented step of banning optometrists from attending its continuing education courses – more of an insecurity than an air of authority.  The authors of the poster on which the AAO press release was based would do well to attend a few optometric CE courses on refraction, and the relationship of lens prescriptions to headaches.

It wasn’t entirely surprising to see the New York Times take the bait of the AAO press release hook, line and sinker in one of its blogs yesterday and present this unscientific study as fact.  To its credit, however, the newspaper did subsequently publish comments that I and my colleagues made, citing the murkiness of the AAO evidence.

Samuel Abresman is an applied mathematician and network scientist who has written a brilliant book about the half-life of facts.  Facts are being manufactured all the time, and many of them turn out to be wrong.  In the medical field, a considerable number of studies – particularly posters such as the one on which this press release is based – are either proven wrong or fail to be replicated.

The half-life of the “study” supporting the anecdotal evidence of ophthalmologists that children’s headaches are rarely related to vision problems will be short.  In the interim, it simply presents another hoop through which children and parents will jump to find their way to us.

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