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Education And Debate

Systematic Reviews: Some examples

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 17 September 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:719
  1. P Knipschild
  1. Department of Epidemiology, University of Limburg, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, Netherlands.

    Reviewing the literature is a scientific inquiry that needs a clear design to preclude bias. It is a real enterprise if one aims at completeness of the literature on a certain subject. Going through refereed English language journals is not enough. On line databases are helpful, but mainly as a starting point. This article gives examples of systematic reviews on vitamin C and the common cold, pyridoxine against the premenstrual syndrome, homeopathy, and physiotherapy.

    You will have heard of Maastricht - in 1992 the European Union treaty was signed there. Some people dislike Maastricht because it seems to stand for the ideal of the United States of Europe, but many of us in Maastricht do not even know what the treaty is about. What we like is to sit together and enjoy our Burgundian way of living. Maastricht is one big sidewalk cafe.

    People in my town are very inventive in finding reasons for painting the town red. Of the many festivals that we have, carnival in the late winter is definitely number one. Anyone born and bred in Maastricht, would not dream of escaping the noise, the jigging and the many beers. For almost a week we live in sin and after that we are so depleted that we need a few days off to recover. Nearly every good carnivalist gets a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and other signs of a common cold: it is a marker that we have done our duty.

    A carnival trial?

    Some years ago a doctor who was not from Maastricht asked me to help set up a preventive trial on vitamin C and the common cold. I immediately thought of making it a carnival trial. So I suggested, “Take 200 carnivalists and randomise them to placebo or vitamin C before the carnival storm breaks. You …

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