It's difficult to read health and science news or peruse the articles of Healthkicker without being flooded with statements of things like "x substance causes cancer" or "miracle fruit reduces risk of stroke." Oftentimes, readers take the news summary at face value without delving into the actual research (or sometimes even getting past the title). In these news articles, there will often by a hyperlink to the study to which the article refers and it's important as a reader to be able to access and evaluate information.
Here are some quick and basic rules about evaluating research studies: Sample Size and Who's Involved
The first thing to look at is how many people were involved in the study. Studies with few participants have little validity. Without going into the details of Biostatistics and confidence intervals, understand that a study investigating exposures or diseases that are not rare or easily controlled have absolutely no reason not to have a very large study group. If only a few dozen people are studied, the findings are much less likely to be valid. Findings may not be applicable to other people and the effects of random chance are stronger when only a few people are studied.
Also, take note of whether or not the study involves people or animals. While animal models are necessary beginning parts to studies, published findings are not necessarily applicable to humans. It's also much easier to give large doses of an exposure to an animal to artificially create a disease association that would be impossible to replicate in people. Cases and Controls
Did the study have both a case group and control group? Other than the exposure or disease, were the two groups comparable to one another? Also, whenever you compare a study regarding a working population versus the overall population, remember that the overall population is inherently less healthy than the working population (known as the Healthy Worker Effect). Studies that have bad definitions for the cases or that lack controls are poor studies. Where'd the Money Come From?
Unfortunately, there's not always great integrity within science and researchers are confined to only publishing information that benefits those who funded the research. Take note of who funded the research and if they stood to gain from specific conclusions. Biological Plausibility
This is a pretty basic one; essentially, does the study make biological sense? If something seems highly biologically unlikely or far fetched, it is definitely something that you should research further.So, the next time you read a health news article, you will be able to determine whether or not the study it summarizes is credible.