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Should You Trust The Latest Research?

I challenge anyone who reads a news article about the latest research on any topic to go track down the original research study and read it thoroughly before they believe what was reported. Often times you will find that the secondary source covering the results will be a little over zealous in reporting something breakthrough, when the numbers are actually not that impressive.

In healthcare we like to demand research to prove that something works. This is important to provide the best treatments possible, but it has its downfalls. Sometimes researcher seems to be used to promote a type of treatment or a health trend as opposed to having a more objective lens. Research should challenge a hypothesis, not aim to prove it.

The gold standard in research is the randomized control trial and one that is double blind is ideal. This means that test subjects are exposed to a certain type of treatment or no treatment at all and the results are compared between the test groups. Subjects are pre-selected, but are then put into their groups at random. In the case of a double blind study, even the researchers don't know which group is getting which treatment. Sounds pretty bulletproof right? In some cases yes, but there are flaws. Methodology and statistical analysis flaws can often skew the results or not control for important variables. A study should be re-producible with the same results found to stand the test of time.

If a research study involving diet has 36 subjects that were selected on a strict basis, then it is possible that the ground breaking research may apply to that specific part of the population, but not to you. If a study involves 10,000 test subjects that have diverse demographics, then maybe the findings are more applicable to you. Still then, there might be variables that were not controlled for.

As humans, we are so naive to think that we control our surroundings and this is especially true in a laboratory or research setting. But the fact is that each decade we look back at the previous years and realize there were various assumptions we had that are just plain wrong. I argue that there is no way enough variables can be controlled for when doing research on humans because there are just are too many.

It seems that people and companies hide behind research these days as if it were gospel. The reality is that their research may be flawed. In practice doctors rely on clinical knowledge that is acquired through years of treating patients. Do not overlook the wisdom that they may have.

It is important for you to inform yourself by reading the primary source of the data in the journal that it was originally published in. Sometime by looking at the raw data collected and reported in a research article you can tell how practical the conclusion actually is. Use your own critical thinking to decide if the research is worth noticing and changing your life over.

Ivan Couronne just wrote a great article about this topic that I recommend reading.

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