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Letters to the Editor

Correlation Is Not Causation

Pott, Leonard M. MBBCh

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31818c749a

To the Editor:

In a report published in the June issue, the authors state that “[r]equired medical school research experiences . . . may promote subsequent research productivity” and that “[t]his information is useful to medical school leaders.”1

However, the data presented by the authors do not support that conclusion. An alternative explanation for this correlation is that it is highly likely that students sufficiently motivated to achieve publication or presentation while at medical school will retain that motivation and ambition to continue their research endeavors postgraduation. This study is undermined by the lack of a control group. If the authors had presented data from a randomly chosen group of students who had been instructed not to perform any medical student research and who subsequently had been less productive, then the authors’ conclusion would be supported. I appreciate that conducting such a study would be very difficult and would arguably be unethical even if it were possible. Nevertheless, the authors should have been more cautious about drawing conclusions from the data they presented.

Leonard M. Pott, MBBCh

Associate professor of anesthesiology, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, H187 PO Box 850, 500 University Drive Hershey, PA; ([email protected]).


1 Dyrbye LN, Davidson LW, Cook DA. Publications and presentations resulting from required research by students at Mayo Medical School, 1976–2003. Acad Med. 2008;83:604–610.
© 2008 Association of American Medical Colleges