During the Eclipse festivities at Homestead National Monument one of the scientists explained that the Transit of Venus allowed astronomers to estimate the distance between the earth and the sun. That estimate was highly accurate and stood for hundreds of years until more advanced tools were created that could get a better measure.
Technology, research methods, and access to research have evolved and improved rapidly but there is still a lot of confusion about what some of that research means and whether or not the research is accurate. I’m going to define some terms and point out some things to look for. Whether we’re helping a child prepare for a science fair or examining a new medication or treatment, it’s important for all of us to be able to draw some of our own conclusions from research.
Some things to look out for include primary sources—are they quoting other journals? Or popular media? Are they quoting other professionals directly or as they appear in other sources?
Who is paying for the study? Is the payment source unbiased or does it present a potential conflict of interest?
What year was the study published? Some, especially those that focus on theory, have stood the test of time. In other cases, definitions, research standards, or technology have changed enough to diminish the value of the research.
Who is conducting the research? Are they qualified to perform the treatment or to interpret the results?
Who are the subjects? Is there a gender, age, or racial bias in the study?
N=the number of participants in a study. Generally, the more participants, the more accurate the study. However, the number of participants in a social or psychological study will be lower than the number of participants in a medication trial. For instance, one COPD/Asthma medication trial had 7700 participants and there were multiple trials with varying numbers of participants. In contrast, the recent music therapy and Autism study which was praised for its high number of participants only had 364.
Reliability—Two or more observers using the same measuring tool get more or less the same result
Validity--The measuring tool measures what it is supposed to measure. You may have heard the story about the math test that is really measuring the student’s knowledge of baseball which leads into the next definition…
Bias—Does the measuring tool or the interpretation of results reflect the researcher’s cultural background but not the test subjects’?
Correlation—Two or more events or behaviors that appear to be highly related. However, other variables may be influencing the change.
Variable—Something that if changed affects the outcome, the process, or the behavior being examined. The more variables there are the harder it may be to determine which one caused the change.
Control group—A group that doesn’t receive the experimental medication or treatment but is similar in make up to the experimental group.
Double blind study—Test subjects do not know if they are receiving the experimental medication or a placebo
Baseline—levels of the behavior or medical condition before treatment begins.
Operational definition—A precise definition of what the researcher is looking for so that an independent observer could identify the same behaviors
Abstract—A short summary of the research
Peer reviewed—the study is reviewed by professionals of similar training and experience before being published
Is there any other terminology or methodology that you would like to know more about? Let me know!