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article imageBMJ study — Parachutes don't save people who fall out of planes

By Karen Graham     Dec 15, 2018 in Science
The BMJ journal Christmas issue has not let readers down - producing another ground-breaking satirical study to wrap our minds around as we celebrate the holidays. BMJ takes on parachute safety, but the study is "well-grounded."
Actually, many people may wonder why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane in the first place, and while most of us would think it is safer to use a parachute if you do jump, BMJ researchers found that parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury.
Parachutes are used to slow an object, or person, falling through the atmosphere by creating a drag. It is considered a safety device, much like a life preserver is to a seaman. However, the evidence supporting the efficacy of parachutes is weak and guideline recommendations for their use are principally based on biological plausibility and expert opinion.
So between September 2017 and August 2018, a randomized, controlled trial was undertaken with 92 aircraft passengers aged 18 and over. A total of 23 of the participants used National 360 parachutes, while the control group used empty North Face backpacks strapped to their backs. The participants jumped out of airplanes and helicopters.
The yellow backup parachute opens safely
The yellow backup parachute opens safely
Basically, the researchers found that the parachutes made no difference in whether the participants in the study lived or died, nor did they find any statistically significant difference in the outcome between the treatment and control arms.
Limitations of randomized controlled trials
Parachute injuries are actually recognized in the World Health Organization’s ICD-10 (international classification of diseases, 10th revision). However, previous attempts to evaluate parachute use in random settings has not been attempted because of both ethical and practical concerns.
And then, there are the concerns of participants in these studies over the quality and condition of the equipment being used. These concerns also included pre-existing beliefs about parachutes. To avoid the pitfalls associated with getting volunteers to jump out of an aircraft, the research team used the randomized clinical trial.
According to the scientists, “The parachute trial satirically highlights some of the limitations of randomized controlled trials, in which participants are randomly assigned to the treatment or control group in order to reduce bias."
They added, "Nevertheless, we believe that such trials remain the gold standard for the evaluation of most new treatments. The parachute trial does suggest, however, that their accurate interpretation requires more than a cursory reading of the abstract.”
Perhaps even more important is that scientists should rethink their studies, focusing on the folks who really need the treatment.
Slapping the treatment on the back of someone who doesn’t really need it doesn’t tell you much about whether it works, points out Tech Explorist.
Two skydivers at the 50th Anniversary of 1 Parachute Battalion.
Two skydivers at the 50th Anniversary of 1 Parachute Battalion.
The real study and what happened
Now it would be very difficult to get volunteers to jump out of an aircraft thousands of feet in the air, going hundreds of miles per hour, so the participants actually jumped just three to four feet out of planes and helicopters parked on the ground, not moving at all.
But you will have to read three or four paragraphs down into the study to find this out. Live Science also notes that while satirical, the real purpose of this study is to make a point about how people interpret results from scientific papers.
More about BMJ christmas issue, parachute use, backpacks, Randomized controlled trial, Deaths
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