Evidence Soup
How to find, use, and explain evidence.

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Friday, 26 June 2009

The evidence is clear: Cheerleading is not for sissies. But these new findings should have been disseminated more effectively.

LiveScience.com recaps new evidence showing that the most dangerous sport for high school and college females is cheerleading: "Researchers have long known how dangerous cheerleading is, but records were poorly kept until recently. An update to the record-keeping system last year found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading. The next most dangerous sports: gymnastics (nine such injuries) and track (seven)."

The National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research at the University of North Carolina has released its 26th annual report (58-page pdf here). For the period fall 1982 - spring 2008, LiveScience says "the numbers tell us:

  • High school sports were associated with 152 fatalities, 379 non-fatal injuries and 374 serious injuries. College sports accounted for 22 fatalities, 63 non-fatal injuries and 126 serious injuries.
  • Cheerleading accounted for 65.2 percent of high school and 70.5 percent of college catastrophic injuries among all female sports."

A lesson in how *not* to disseminate research findings. I'm grateful to LiveScience for sorting through these stats. The National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research site presents none of this evidence on web pages, which would speed dissemination of their findings and make them available to web search engines. Here's all they say: "In order to view the reports, just click on the report you wish to view on the left sidebar. You will need Adobe Acrobat or Reader to view the reports. This can be downloaded for free at www.adobe.com. The data tables referenced in the reports can be found using the link Data Tables on the left side-bar of the website. The majority of the tables can also be found within the reports as well." Sheesh. They're not doing themselves any favors.

Their information is available only in the formal report. And although the findings are interesting, the reports are particularly difficult to digest. First, there's no Executive Summary to present key results and offer quotable sound bites -- there's not even a table of contents. Instead, the authors begin with an introduction, and then go right into a discussion of data collection methods. They give us lengthy prose discussing the findings for each sport, referring to tables in an appendix (example below). If they want their evidence to have maximum impact, they need to package it much differently.



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