“Extraordinary claims require Extraordinary evidence”
It seems everyone has a study to back up anything now a days. Huge claims are made with a catchy headline only to quote a small faulty study. It doesn’t matter how credible the study is, the headline caught your attention and will likely hold it. Being in the fitness industry I see a lot of products all claiming to produce results. They’ll cite a study and extract a lot of speculated data to reaffirm their product. We all suffer from confirmation bias, I’m not innocent in this either. It comes down to personal responsibility. You need to do the research and find out for yourself if what you're reading is true. It’s not easy to spot a faulty study and sometimes we don’t want to look deeper into the topic. Once you know what to look for you won’t be fooled as easily. To give you a hand, here are a couple of ways to spot some red flags in a study:
Any company can conduct a study, cherry pick data, and reinforce their product. So when a company or product cites a study that hasn’t been published in any journal be alarmed. At the very minimum make sure the study has been published in some kind of peer reviewed journal.
The peer review process is not perfect though. Most people can’t agree on what the process of peer review is. Is it a group of experts conducting the study themselves and checking the results? Is it a group of people evaluating the methods of the study? Is it simply a lone editor trying to push a study to get grant funding? Sadly, these can all be the case.
While there are flaws in the peer review process it is the very least thing you can check for when evaluating a study. For more information on the peer review process check out this article.
Once you know if a study has been published the next step is to evaluate the methods used. There are different ways to conduct studies but they should include: clear research question, randomized participants, use of placebo and control group, blinding of patients and study conductors, large sample size, who funded the study.
- Clear research question: If you don’t know what you’re asking, how can you find the answer? Make sure the study is looking to answer exactly what the company claims it’s product does.
- Randomized participants: When you conduct a study it is important that you randomly select participants AND randomly assign them in the study. If you knowingly select certain participants you will have a better understanding of how they will react to something which can be used to provide the result you want.
- Placebo: A placebo is a substance that is meant to look like the thing you’re testing but have no effect on anything. It is meant to be given to one group while the other group receives the thing you’re testing. This is so you can compare the differences between the two.
- Control group: this is the group that will receive the placebo. They are meant to serve as the baseline. So if anything is different in the other group it can be attributed to the substance administered.
- Double blinded study: When the participants and the experimenters don’t know who is receiving the placebo vs treatment. This is used to prevent bias.
- Sample size: You can have a big sample size or a small sample size. The bigger the sample size is, the smaller the effect of the treatment will be to measure. The smaller the sample size is, the larger the treatments effect will be. So when evaluating sample size, just check and see if they justify why they chose the size they did.
- Who funded the study: Know who is funding the study. If a supplement company is funding its own study obviously they want good results for their product. To get around this, look up studies on specific ingredients used in their products.
No study is perfect, because nobody is perfect. So when you come across an article with an enticing headline, understand that they will likely need some solid evidence to back it up. Check the study, look for the things listed above, and take everything with a grain of salt. Don't be fooled by flashy headlines. Check for yourself and become a better informed individual. If you have any studies you need looked at don't hesitate to send them my way. I will gladly look it over for you and give you my opinion.