Apophenia and anesthesia: how we sometimes change our practice prematurely: how we sometimes change our practice prematurely

Translated title of the contribution: Apophenia and anesthesia: how we sometimes change our practice prematurely

Neil A. Hanson, Matthew B. Lavallee, Robert H. Thiele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Human beings are predisposed to identifying false patterns in statistical noise, a likely survival advantage during our evolutionary development. Moreover, humans seem to prefer “positive” results over “negative” ones. These two cognitive features lay a framework for premature adoption of falsely positive studies. Added to this predisposition is the tendency of journals to “overbid” for exciting or newsworthy manuscripts, incentives in both the academic and publishing industries that value change over truth and scientific rigour, and a growing dependence on complex statistical techniques that some reviewers do not understand. The purpose of this article is to describe the underlying causes of premature adoption and provide recommendations that may improve the quality of published science.

Translated title of the contributionApophenia and anesthesia: how we sometimes change our practice prematurely
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)1185-1196
Number of pages12
JournalCanadian Journal of Anesthesia
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In 2006, Schwinn and Balser lamented the fact that anesthesiology departments were recipients of less than 1% of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding from 1975 to 2003. To put that into context, anesthesiologists make up almost 5% of the physician workforce in the United States. If we are going to combat the misunderstandings that have created premature adoption, participation in the process of scientific discovery is essential. Thirteen years later, our specialty’s percentage of NIH funding remains stubbornly low, at 0.6%. Worse, more than half of that funding is concentrated in only ten departments, creating a winner-takes-all scenario where most academic anesthesiology departments have virtually no access to NIH funding. Contrast our specialty with medicine and surgery—as of 2020, anesthesiology departments held 508 NIH grants compared with 8,194 for internal medicine departments and 984 for surgery departments. Looking at the NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01; four to five years duration and several million USD) grants specifically, anesthesiologists held 291, internists and adult subspecialists held 3,371, and surgeons held 518. Our pipeline is at risk, as there were only 56 NIH career development awards (K-08 [basic science] and K-23 [clinical/translational]) awarded to anesthesiology departments compared with 1,022 for medicine departments and 94 for surgery departments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society.


  • anesthesia
  • apophenia
  • bias
  • incentives
  • premature adoption
  • Publishing
  • Humans
  • Anesthesia

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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