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Reading Diabetes Research: How to Have a More Critical Eye

When you hear about the latest research on diabetes or other diseases, it's prudent to have an open mind, and to also approach research results with a critical eye. 

Not All Research is Created Equal

online newsIf you've tuned into scientific research, you'll recognize that some research can be publicly criticized for being poorly designed or commercially biased. Meanwhile, the media can be criticized for taking new scientific research findings as fact, without attempting to discover if the research was well-designed or not. 

The gold standard of research is generally considered to be the double-blind, randomized controlled trial (RCT) or the randomized double-blind placebo control (RDBPC) study. Such research is considered "double-blind" because neither the researchers nor the subjects know whether the subjects are taking a placebo or the actual medication being tested, and random assignment of either a placebo or the real medication means the researchers have no control over who receives which (and they don't find out who was taking what until the end). 

Some research doesn't include a placebo, and others skip the steps of randomization or the double-blind aspect, thus critics will consider that research less conclusive or powerful. 

Meanwhile, a study of the effectiveness of a certain medication or intervention is more powerful and believable when a very large number of people have been tested, as opposed to a small number. For instance, if a new medication is only tested on ten people, the results are not terribly conclusive since those ten people can't accurately represent the larger population. On the other hand, 10,000 subjects involved in a research project  lead us to feel that the conclusions of the research may be more believable and applicable to the general population. 

Another factor used to judge the applicability of research is that the study can be repeated or replicated, with similar conclusions being drawn in subsquent studies. One scientific study may come to a specific conclusion, but it is the second (or third or fourth!) repetition of the study that will inform us if the conclusions of the first study were indeed correct. 

Financial interest in a certain outcome can also impact research. If a company with a vested interest in a certain outcome is sponsoring the study, could they somehow influence the scientists to alter the data in their favor? 

There are many other factors by which you can judge scientific research, and blog posts and articles like this one can help you to read them with a critical eye. 

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Just because the media reports that new research has demonstrated a particular conclusion, don't immediately hop on the bandwagon along with everyone else.

If new research shows that diabetes can be controlled solely by eating watermelon and peanut butter three times per day, you might want to do some research of your own in order to determine if the research being cited on the news is believable, scientifically rigorous, and repeatable. You can ask certain critical questions: 

  • How many people participated in the study? 
  • Did all of the participants in the study eat the same amount of watermelon and peanut butter each day? 
  • How was the participants' diabetes tested? Did they use blood glucose testing, Hemoglobin A1c, or other tests? 
  • Were the participants' diets controlled for other factors? 
  • Did any of the participants have other medical conditions that could skew or alter the data? 
  • Was the study sponsored and paid for by a company with financial interest in selling more peanut butter or watermelons? 

As you can see, many factors can influence whether research is rigorous, well-planned, and free of commercial bias. Have you ever heard about new research and then altered your behavior or lifestyle without making sure that the research being promoted was accurate? 

Be Critical and Circumspect

There's a great deal of good research being done at any given time, and there's always research that's questionable, biased, poorly designed, or otherwise potentially misleading. 

If you hear about new medical research on the news, ask yourself questions like those posed above, and don't just buy the story without giving it very clear thought. If you're moved to follow the advice of new medical research, run it by your medical provider before making any sudden changes. 

Research keeps the body of scientific knowledge moving forward, but the media can also confuse and distort research conclusions, painting an unrealistic picture for the public. 

Be circumspect and critical when assessing new research, and exercise caution and prudence when deciding to put new scientific claims to test in your own life. 

 

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