How Do You Know if Medical Research is Reliable?


Perhaps you read studies published by a Harvard doctor claiming that damaged heart muscle could be regenerated with stem cells. Well, it turns out that despite 31 published studies, the data was not true. The New York Times reported this week that the research was conducted by Dr. Piero Anversa, and charges against him include submitting fraudulent data to the government in order to get research funding. Anversa agreed to pay a settlement of $10 million. Apparently, over the years, people began to question the accuracy of his research. The Times said that several laboratories from places like Stanford and the University of Washington tried to recreate his study with no prevail. This raised cause for an investigation. If true, his research would have been a game changer for people with damaged heart muscle. Unfortunately, this false information spread and lots of people invested in it only to find out that it was wrong. Anversa’s case is a friendly reminder to all of us that we need to pay attention to the research we are relying on. We must be more diligent in questioning whether or not we have accurate information at our fingertips. In an era of endless information online and #fakenews, how do you know if medical research is reliable?

How Do You Know if Medical Research is Reliable? | Five Things to Ask

Here are five things to ask about a study in order to help you evaluate whether the research you are reading is reliable or not. In this day and age, we have so much information right at our fingertips. Even as physicians, there are times when you have no option but to do a trusty Google search. When you do, consider these tips to help answer, how do you know if medical research is reliable?

how do you know if medical research is relialble or not

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Who conducted the study?

The first thing to find out is who conducted the study. Knowing who the person or company is will give you some insight on what their motives are for studying the subject in the first place. This can also give you a hint as to whether or not they may want to manipulate the results. Another thing to question is how many people have studied this specific subject, and how did their results compare. In the example above of Anversa’s research, we see that many other people attempted to replicate his research and failed. If he’s the only one pulling those results, you have to question how accurate it is.

Who reviewed the study?

The next thing you want to consider is who reviewed the study after it was complete? For example, studies that are peer reviewed carry more weight. Peer review means that many different people with expertise on the subject read, evaluated, and thoroughly reviewed the study to determine how accurate the results are. Someone with expertise in a subject is more likely to notice if data seems fabricated or off than someone who is simply reading about the subject for the first time.

Who paid for it?

How do you know if medical research is reliable? We all know how powerful money is. This is why one of the most important things you should question about a study is who paid for it. Did the person doing the research get money from a party that would want them to prove something one way or the other regardless of its truth? For example, if someone released research about the safety of a new MRI machine and the manufacturer of that machine paid for the research, you may question the accuracy of the data in the study. However, if a totally unrelated medical center funded the study, you may say it’s more trustworthy research.

Who were the participants?

Another important factor in medical research is who participated in the study. Make sure you pay attention to all of the groups involved and ask yourself – does it make sense? Not only should you question the participants in terms of relevancy but also in the number that were involved and how researchers used them in the study

Where was it published?

The last thing you should ask before deciding if the research you’re reading is credible is – where is it published? If you read the study in The Onion, chances are it isn’t true. If you are reading it in a medical journal, chances are higher that there’s some truth behind it. Use your common sense to determine if the research is coming from a place that you trust.

How do you know if medical research is reliable? If you have additional tips or tricks for determining the credibility of medical studies, share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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