I’m a bit of a data junkie.
So when I went back to school, I was excited to dive into the research.
But I’ll be honest, reading scientific articles can get a bit dry and I had to look up many of the medical terms. Seriously.
I often found myself reading the same paragraph 5 times, because I generally speak in layman terms.
Over time, it became easier to decipher through all the words and I could quickly assess if the study is credible.
You may be asking, “Why should I care?”
At this moment, when data and science are questioned, we must take the time to understand what is the information source.
Here are a few things to look for or ask when scientific experimental studies are shared:
Was the study conducted on humans?
- This question may sound funny, but animals are used in studies. I am a huge animal lover, so this makes me cringe a bit. But bottom line, we are not mice, monkeys, rabbits, etc. Study results should be from humans, conducted ethically, to understand any long-term effects from the experiment.
How long was the study?
- This answer will depend, especially when needing to understand if there any long-term effects. However, I would put more confidence in a study lasting over one year versus one week.
What is the sample size?
- It is recommended a minimum of 30 in the sample size.
Was it a double-blind randomized control trial?
- This is considered the gold standard because participants are randomly assigned to different groups to understand how the groups were impacted by the experiment. For example, monitoring group A received the medication versus group B received a placebo, also known as a sugar pill. Also, the participants don’t know if they took the medication or the sugar pill. This method helps minimize any biases in the study from the researchers and the participants.
Was the study peer-reviewed?
- This process helps provide more credibility to the study because of the evaluation by other scholars in that field before the study was published. But note, this alone could lead to favoritism from other scholars. Peer-reviewed plus a randomized control trial is ideal.
Who funded the research?
- The resource funding source is important. For example, if you see a study conducted on a prescription drug and it was funded by the same prescription drug company, I definitely would have doubts about the validity of the study. Check to see if independent groups funded the study.
Did the researcher disclose their conflicts of interest or affiliations?
- Conflicts of interests follow the same points made above. It is important to understand if the researchers have any conflicting interests relating to employment, financial gains like receiving grants, receive product royalties, etc. Researchers must disclose this information in alignment with ethical standards.
Do the researchers have appropriate credentials?
- Researchers tend to hold doctorate level degrees in their areas of expertise. Ensure the researchers have appropriate credentials in their field versus taking recommendations from random sources on social media.
Is there a list of references?
- I like browsing through this list. Research tends to build upon each other, and it is a great way to see how science is evolving. It also brings credibility to the content shared in the article, and most importantly, gives credit to another researcher’s work you have consulted.
Is there any advertising?
- Generally, scientific studies have very little to no advertising. The absence of advertising helps minimize biases and conflicts of interest.
If you’re a data nerd like me, here are some free scientific articles resources:
- National Library of Medicine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/trending/
- Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/
- Science Open https://www.scienceopen.com/
Knowledge is POWER and it empowers us to make our own decisions.