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COVID-19 data are messy: analytic methods for rigorous impact analyses with imperfect data

Stoto, Michael A., Woolverton, Abbey, Kraemer, John, Barlow, Pepita and Clarke, Michael (2022) COVID-19 data are messy: analytic methods for rigorous impact analyses with imperfect data. Globalization and Health, 18 (1). ISSN 1744-8603

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Identification Number: 10.1186/s12992-021-00795-0


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an avalanche of scientific studies, drawing on many different types of data. However, studies addressing the effectiveness of government actions against COVID-19, especially non-pharmaceutical interventions, often exhibit data problems that threaten the validity of their results. This review is thus intended to help epidemiologists and other researchers identify a set of data issues that, in our view, must be addressed in order for their work to be credible. We further intend to help journal editors and peer reviewers when evaluating studies, to apprise policy-makers, journalists, and other research consumers about the strengths and weaknesses of published studies, and to inform the wider debate about the scientific quality of COVID-19 research. Results: To this end, we describe common challenges in the collection, reporting, and use of epidemiologic, policy, and other data, including completeness and representativeness of outcomes data; their comparability over time and among jurisdictions; the adequacy of policy variables and data on intermediate outcomes such as mobility and mask use; and a mismatch between level of intervention and outcome variables. We urge researchers to think critically about potential problems with the COVID-19 data sources over the specific time periods and particular locations they have chosen to analyze, and to choose not only appropriate study designs but also to conduct appropriate checks and sensitivity analyses to investigate the impact(s) of potential threats on study findings. Conclusions: In an effort to encourage high quality research, we provide recommendations on how to address the issues we identify. Our first recommendation is for researchers to choose an appropriate design (and the data it requires). This review describes considerations and issues in order to identify the strongest analytical designs and demonstrates how interrupted time-series and comparative longitudinal studies can be particularly useful. Furthermore, we recommend that researchers conduct checks or sensitivity analyses of the results to data source and design choices, which we illustrate. Regardless of the approaches taken, researchers should be explicit about the kind of data problems or other biases that the design choice and sensitivity analyses are addressing.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Health Policy
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2022 15:54
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2022 09:15

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