Analyzing Science Articles
I routinely come across science articles on studies of children’s development and well being. Many times there is quite the discussion in the comments section of people arguing why, or why not, this is obvious because of their particular anecdote. Additionally, the article itself is touting: “According to science…”, “Science says…”, or “Study says…”. To me, that seems a bit misleading and overreaching. Sometimes the experiment/study being presented has legitimate logic to back it up, and sometimes, not so much.
It’s important to be able to distinguish the good science based on logic and sound experimentation, from the “spin-science” for the purpose of promoting a preconceived viewpoint.
The Scientific Method
Quality scientific research uses the Scientific Method. I’m sure we are all vaguely familiar with its component parts, but just as a refresher, these include:
- A question is formed, typically as a result of observation
- Conduct research into the background of the question
- Propose a hypothesis (educated guess) to answer the question
- Design and execute an experiment to test the hypothesis, gathering data in response to controlled variables
- Analyze the data and draw conclusions from the findings
- Repeat the process to ensure the conclusions being made are consistent
Some places will add steps for more explicit phases, but generally, this is how we come to our conclusions. In other words: This is how you Science.
Questions to Ask
Now that we are up to speed on the basics, what should you look for when trying to determine if the information being presented is legit?
- Does it have a source publication? I like to go straight to the source and check out the specific study mentioned. It should have a link within the article but if it’s not published in anything that is peer-reviewed, that’s a red flag.
- Sample Size: How many “things” are included in the experiment? A large and diverse sample size would be ideal.
- Have similar results been produced elsewhere? Replication of similar results is the name of the game when it comes to science.
- When was this originally published? I’ve looked into the experiment being argued and see that it’s almost a decade old? Why are people fighting about it now?
- Is it a sponsored study? A responsible researcher will disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Once the information proves reliable, that doesn’t mean it will be practical. I know that, scientifically, feeding my kid a diverse array of fruits and vegetables is what’s good for them. That said, there have been more than a
hundred couple nights that all she ate was chips and cheese. Will she be worse for the wear? Probably not. As long as it’s not a matter of overt safety (think seatbelts or second-hand smoke) you will have to take that science with a dose of sensibility. Once you have the info, you implement it as best you can for your unique child.