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Consensus statements that fail to recognise dissent are flawed by design: a narrative review with 10 suggested improvements
  1. Ian Shrier
  1. Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Communit, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ian Shrier, Centre for Clinical Epidemiology, Lady Davis Institute, Montreal, QC, Canada; ian.shrier{at}mcgill.ca

Abstract

Consensus statements have the potential to be very influential. Recently, such statements in sport and exercise medicine appear more prescriptive, strongly recommending particular approaches to research or treatment. In 2020, a statement on methods for reporting sport injury surveillance studies included an extension to the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) reporting guidelines; STROBE guidelines are now official requirements for many journals. This suggests that investigators who use methods outside of these guidelines may have difficulty publishing their results. By definition, consensus is not unanimity, and consensus recommendations are sometimes considered flawed at a later date. This is expected as a discipline benefits from new knowledge. However, the consensus methods themselves may also inadvertently suppress contrary—but valid—opinions. I point to a different model for consensus meetings and statements that embraces dissenting opinions and is more transparent than common current methods in sport and exercise medicine. The method, based on how Supreme Courts function in many countries, allows for both majority and one or more minority opinions. I illustrate how a consensus statement might be written using examples from four previous sport and exercise medicine consensus statements. By adopting the ‘Supreme Court’ approach, important disagreements about the strength and interpretation of evidence will be far more visible than is currently the case in most consensus meetings. The benefit of the Supreme Court model is that it will ensure that clinicians, researchers and journals are not inappropriately influenced by recommendations from consensus statements where uncertainty remains.

  • consensus statement
  • methodology
  • surveillance
  • epidemiology
  • injury

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Footnotes

  • Contributors The sole author was responsible for the conception and writing of this review article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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