Is it Good Research or Just Media Hype?
Nearly every day a new study appears in the media that gets blown out of proportion. For example, titles such as “Cheese really is crack. Study reveals cheese is as addictive as drugs.” or “Fidgeting might be good for your health” are both titles that attract the reader. The media uses these eye-catching titles to help draw readers when in many cases these studies are filled with inaccurate statistics.
These articles can spread false information and give readers misleading, and in some cases, harmful advice. So how can you discern a good study from media hype? I’ve listed some tips below.
Keep a healthy dose of skepticism…
Is it good research?
Numbers are a significant factor to consider in determining if research is valid and reliable. How many, who, and when are all essential questions to ask about the numbers. How many people? People are different; the same T-shirt worn by my grandpa will not look the same on me – nor will our experiences wearing it be the same… My grandpa may love that it is made in the USA, while I may love that it is 100% organic cotton. To get a good sense of an average experience, a large sample size must be examined. Most research includes a sample size of 30 or more participants, or n≥30 where ‘n’ stands for the number of observations in a study. It could mean adults, kids, couples, or even families. Depending on what type of research is done, an accurate sample size is really important because it makes a claim about a certain subgroup. If a broader claim is made, then a larger sample size of n≥1,000 is needed. Who is being studied is also important. If you are reading a study about a new exercise to loose belly fat, how overweight were the people being studied? How much muscle mass do they have at the start and end of the study? What was their diet like? When were the observations made? If a study was done on the effectiveness of back pain surgery, then ending the day of surgery saying the surgical intervention was completed successfully (patient didn’t die ) isn’t as good as a 6 month follow up, 5 year follow up or 10 year follow up seeing if the back pain was resolved and no additional surgeries were needed.
Who is funding the research?
Always scrutinize these studies closely because the studies are more likely to favor the funders. It may not necessarily bias the results but it definitely informs what kinds of questions were asked and what kinds of information was gathered. For example, food companies have been known to fund studies that tend to favor or show their products in a better light, and that can be used for marketing purposes.
Be wary of animal studies:
Animal experiments are poor predictors to what can happen in human trials because many animal experiments are poorly designed, conducted, and analyzed. For more accurate results, do not rely too much on animal studies.
Who’s the “Expert”?
An “expert opinion” in a health study can mean lots of things. An expert may not be familiar with the subject, the research, and may even have ties to a particular manufacturer.
What to do with a new study:
- Ask yourself if this study concerns you or your loved one’s health. Don’t be quick to jump on the bandwagon of a trend.
- .Find and review credible, long-term, publicly funded research to help your decision. Look for citations or mentions of previous studies. Also, look to see if the publisher is affiliated with an academic journal, a university, or a government agency. Peer-reviewed work is always more reliable than self-published articles, books, or websites.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about studies you are concerned about. Ask questions and be informed before making any decisions.
No study is perfect. Your best tools are careful review and interpretation.