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Understanding Research

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Even some of the best news sources aren’t great at science reporting. In addition, access to research journals is limited for most of us. There are also many more research studies than are published. When we do have access to research, often there is terminology and procedures that are specific to the discipline that may not be understood by the layperson. This can lead to a disconnect with even some of the most basic research principles. Some questions I’ve seen recently have been: why hasn’t anyone tried (medical procedure) or (medication)? Why aren’t there studies being done on (medication)? Why can’t we just start prescribing (medication)? Why don’t we have (medication) or (test) available yet? Why don’t we see more testing of natural remedies?

First of all, any study that involves people has to follow certain rules. If done, through a hospital or university, the study has to be approved before the researcher can even start recruiting participants. Funding needs to be secured. Medications cost to be administered. Equipment may need to be created or rented. Participants may need incentive to participate. Participants need to give consent and need to be given an idea of what the study entails. An adequate number of subjects need to take part in the study. Generally, it is easier to find and keep participants for a medication study than for a behavioral study. In part, this is because medication studies are better funded and can offer larger incentives for participation. However, behavioral studies often take longer or require more effort from the participants and the subjects may drop out before the study is finished.

New methods, medications, or findings may need to be tested multiple times before the results are released or published. Once those findings are released, multiple studies will likely follow. Does this medication or procedure work the same with a different kind of test subject or under different conditions? What happens when the medication or procedure is changed slightly?

New ideas and ways of looking at things are welcome and necessary in research. However, there needs to be a way to test the idea and measure the results. In addition, even new ideas need to build off of existing knowledge. For example, has anything similar been tried before? What keeps it from being a viable method now? Have we learned something new since this was last tested?

What haven’t I covered? Research is a fascinating topic and discussions of ethics, procedures, and the differences between types of research could take up many blog posts. Let me know if you have any questions!

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