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Scientist Castigates Auckland University

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Scientist Castigates Auckland University Following Official Information Disclosure About Cot Death Research

Scientist Dr Jim Sprott OBE is criticising the University of Auckland for failing to prevent biased cot death research being submitted for publication.

Earlier this month Dr Sprott received from the University of Auckland under Official Information an Abstract for the research study "Survey of infant care practices that have been recommended for SIDS prevention". The study, which was conducted by Professor E A Mitchell of Auckland Medical School, contains a report on the incidence of mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention in the general community.

"The research sample in this survey was statistically biased and the incidence of mattress-wrapping will have been greatly under-reported," stated Dr Sprott.

The survey participants were recruited from the birth list at Auckland City Hospital, which is a Ministry of Health public hospital.(1) The Ministry of Health policy in respect of mattress-wrapping is that there is no evidence of a link between mattresses and cot death risk. Accordingly, sourcing survey participants from the birth list at Auckland City Hospital (many of whom would have attended antenatal classes at which the Ministry of Health policy on mattress-wrapping was presented) results in unreliable statistics on the incidence of mattress-wrapping in the general community.

To obtain reliable survey statistics on the incidence of mattress-wrapping, it is necessary to source research participants from records of the Registrar of Births (i.e. across the whole community) - not records of a Ministry of Health hospital.

"The statistical bias in the 'Survey of infant care practices' was notified to the University of Auckland in May 2006," stated Dr Sprott. "It has also been notified to the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Medical Journal."

The Ministry of Health has noted the matters set out above regarding statistical bias in the research. The New Zealand Medical Journal has sought and obtained permission to publish a statement regarding statistical bias in the research.

In August 2006 a Board Member of the Child Health Research Foundation (which funds Dr Mitchell's professorial chair at Auckland Medical School) stated that the research may be biased.

Dr Sprott will be sending a warning about the "Survey of infant care practices" to various international medical journals, including the Medical Journal of Australia, British Medical Journal, Lancet (UK) and Pediatrics (USA).

"For Auckland University to allow this research to be submitted for publication is untenable," stated Dr Sprott. "The University has known for months about the flawed methodology in the research. However, I am confident that editors of medical journals internationally will take a more robust position against the bias in the research."

Sales figures for BabeSafe mattress-wrapping products show that a very large number of New Zealand babies have slept on mattresses wrapped for cot death prevention. Since the commencement of mattress-wrapping in 1995, around 830 babies have died on cot death on unwrapped mattresses (or parallel bedding situations), but there has been no reported cot death on a "wrapped mattress".

The nationwide cot death rate has fallen by 70% since mattress-wrapping began and the Pakeha rate has fallen by around 85%. These reductions in cot death rates cannot be attributed to orthodox cot death prevention advice (e.g. face-up sleeping). There has been no material change to that advice in New Zealand since 1992.


(1) National Application Form for Ethical Approval of a Research Project: Survey of infant care practices that have been recommended for SIDS prevention (Ministry of Health Northern X Regional Ethics Committee reference AKY/04/08/217), Part III (Project Details: Participants), Section 3.2.

(2) Source of statistics: Ministry of Health


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