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Monday, 23 November 2015

Are studies always right?

This is an opinion piece. All I am trying to achieve with this post is to get you to consider the source of the information you are seeing.  If you look at science articles online or even studies you will see a whole host of areas covered. From diets that cause cancer to exercises that cause most fat loss, not to forget that supplement that boosts testosterone by 100% and shreds you while building muscle (all in 8 weeks...that is so cool!).

However before you go and rush out and buy the latest wonder product that has been proven by science try digging a little bit deeper and checking out the evidence.  Here is a simple way to do it.  First of all, if you read an article, find the original research.  On several occasions I have seen an article and discovered that the research quoted said something very different to the claims of the article, or had such a distorted view of the results so badly that the article was meaningless.  Other times I have found that the research was actually done (or funded) by a lobby group or company and the answer was actually a fabrication, or at least the study was set up in such fashion that the results should be seriously questioned.  Groups like the Weston Price Foundation are classic distorters of the facts, as are several companies.  Let’s take a quick look at the latest piece of research from the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that looks at obesity.

The Global Energy Balance Network produces research into which factors are the prime causes of obesity.  The study it recently produced implies that diet has little to do with obesity, it is actually lack of activity that is the major reason for obesity in Western countries.  That is certainly a possibility, but it does go against most current research that suggests that moderate exercise and dietary changes are needed to lower obesity rates in the western world. So you may wonder who are the Global Energy Balance Network?  If you take a look at the non-profits details they are actually registered to Coca Colas head office.  That’s right, their address is the head office of Coca Cola. If you knew this before would you have thought a little differently about this non-profit and the study results?  A non-profit that suggests that diet has little effect on obesity (so sugary drinks are fine), you just need to do a little exercise and obesity will disappear. This is exactly what has happened, the non-profit was found out to be registered at Coca Cola HQ, you can find the whole story at

This however is the tip of a bigger problem.  A lot of big corporations actually fund studies in a less blatant fashion, but never-the-less still get the results they are after with the threat of losing finding as the incentive.  If your job is on the line you will work hard to get the results the funder wants. The best type of study is often a meta-study when they gather many studies together and see if there is actually some common issue that arises.  Places like ( ) are good places to see if there if there are actually likely causes linked to correlations found in single studies, as they gather evidence from all the studies and put them together. If you find a single study that seems to refute (or support) your current views, then look for other related studies.  If most point one way, then there is a larger chance that actually the thing you are researching is true. I also find playing a game of ‘disproving yourself’ is a good test.  Spend some time trying to refute a common claim you hold.  If you manage it, or even throw some doubt on it, then you have spent your time wisely.  If you failed to disprove your current thinking then you have given yourself extra ammo the next time the issue arises.

Below I will put a check list of things you should do when you find an article:

  1. If you read an article find the original research.  If it is an unreferenced article, then contact the author and ask for references.
  2. Once you have found the original research see who funds the study.
  3. If the study is funded by a non-profit, see if you can find who funds that non-profit.
  4. Look for related studies and see if there is generally consensus about the issue.
  5. Try disproving the results using research.

If you do all of the above you will be head-and-shoulders above most of the people who are on the internet right now.

1 comment:

  1. This is an opinion piece. All I am trying to achieve with this post is to get you to consider the source of the information you are seeing. If you look ...