“In a recent study, researchers concluded that….”
You’ve seen it a million times. You’ve even seen it here if you’re a frequent reader of the Lopez McHugh blog. Health research studies are everywhere. And, in today’s data and information-driven world, their numbers are only growing.
One would think that a larger number of studies would lead to a deeper understanding of the world around us. Yet, savvy consumers of information know that not all studies are relevant. Some are somewhat faulty; others might not even be worth the paper they’re printed on.
So, how do you know whether a study is relevant to your needs or interests and reliable? In most cases, it comes down to just a few key points.
Who paid for the study? Was the study conducted by an independent body of examiners or was it funded by an entity with a vested interest in a favorable outcome? Corporations have a long history of funding studies that promise an outcome which shows their product in a positive light. This is called funding bias and it is well documented.
Did the study take human trials into account or is it based solely on theory, models, and/or animal testing? While computer models of the functions of the human body are growing more and more accurate every day, it is still impossible to account for all of the subtle nuances that make us function and react to substances the way we do.
The same is true for animal testing. It is not difficult to find studies that show certain drugs to be highly effective in stopping cancer cell mutation in rats. While this is great news for the rats, the implications for use in the human body may be vastly different.
Did the study examine all aspects of the drug or did it focus on a single aspect? Finding out that a drug is helpful in controlling a patient’s blood sugar is one thing. However, if a long-term study goes on to indicate that a third of those patients will develop severe liver problems and that fact is ignored, then the study may be misleading at best and potentially even fraudulent or negligent.
It is becoming increasingly important to be critical of the information that we, as consumers, are presented as we make decisions about our day to day lives. Corporate interests, concerns over regulatory independence, and the difficulty in discerning the true source of our information all lead to all-too-familiar state of information overload. The addition of invalid or poorly-supported health studies only serves to confuse an already confusing situation.