When perusing Facebook one day, I saw a status update from a lady’s fairly popular Christian fitness page that described the results of a scientific study.
I have nothing but respect for this individual (who promotes fitness from a biblical perspective), but the description and interpretation of the research made me cringe as a scientist.
The sweeping conclusions the Facebook status made likely couldn’t have been determined by a dozen high-quality studies, let alone just one. Additionally, the study’s reported results conflicted with at least dozen studies that I have personally read.
After seeing the many “likes” and affirming comments the status had received, I couldn’t help but feel concern for the many individuals who were reading this status and assuming it was the concrete truth.
The lady who posted it has many excellent qualities, and I’m sure she wasn’t trying to mislead anyone. However, she has no scientific background and did not seem to critically review the article she was discussing (or read any additional studies on this particular topic).
Below, I have assembled a few articles that I hope will be helpful for those who may not have a science background (or even those that do). This is certainly not an exhaustive list (and I would be happy to hear about other useful articles), but I hope that these resources can be helpful. It isn’t necessary to be a doctor or scientist to understand health news and research. Understanding a few basic concepts can help you interpret news stories and scientific research with caution.
Basic Research Methods & Types of Research
SparkNotes: Research Methods
Harvard School of Public Health: Research Study Types
Interpreting Health Information & Claims
Harvard School of Public Health: Deciphering Media Stories
Federal Trade Commission: Weighing the Claims in Diet Ads
European Food Information Council: Understanding scientific studies
Unite for Sight: Interpreting Research Studies