There are thousands and thousands of medical research studies published online and shared on social media every day. One study tells you that chocolate will make you healthier. The next tells you it’s bad for you.
Which should you believe? Ask yourself these six questions before you trust (or share) the next study you read.
Who published the study?
Check out the website you landed on. Is it a trustworthy academic or industry journal? It's more likely they've reviewed information before publishing it to their website.
Your research shouldn't stop there! Some websites may have names that sound legitimate, but will post any study that pays to be published. Look at the other questions below to see how seriously you should take the findings.
Who paid for the study?
It can be easy to skew data to intended results, so try to find a study that’s funded by someone who doesn’t have a personal interest in the outcome. If a tobacco company funds a study that shows smoke doesn’t increase your risk for lung disease – question it.
Was the study looking at 'Cause and Effect' or just 'Correlation'?
It’s important that the research study isn’t drawing connections between unrelated things. During the summer, ice cream sales and drowning incidents go up. But one doesn’t cause the other – it’s because the weather is warmer. Instead, the study should look at events that cause other events.
Is it a finding? Or proof?
When you hear “… we proved that…” or “… this proved,” it probably isn’t reputable.
Most thorough studies share the results of the study as “findings.” And the best studies are ones built on an established body of evidence from several other findings.
These are a little less flashy and exciting for your social media feed, but more statistically sound.
Who were the subjects of the study?
How large was the study? If the sample size (number of people in the study) is too small, it might just be a coincidence and not meaningful. Did it involve animals in the place of humans? Even though it might pass all of the other tests, animal studies often don’t mean the same thing in people.
When was the study conducted? And for how long?
If the study is a few years old, try to find a more current one. And if the study only ran for a few weeks or months, be doubtful of the data. Years or decades is typically what creates the most meaningful data.
The best approach you can take to reading studies online is to question them before you believe them.
Just because your childhood friend says that “this is the greatest health breakthrough of the decade,” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question it.