Is the research good?
A free online tool to help people make sense of research articles is launched today.
With the burgeoning availability of science journals available free and online, it would seem research has never been more accessible. However, availability of scientific papers is not the same as making the results they report clear, understandable and contextualised. In the digital world where everyone has an opinion, misleading claims based on flawed studies can gain unmerited traction, potentially causing irremediable harm – remember the controversy around the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination? Both the lay public and health professionals face a barrage of confusing and conflicting ‘advice’ - how are we to make sense of it all?
Help is now at hand with the launch of online tool, Understanding Health Research, that takes the user through the steps necessary to make up her or his own mind about the quality of a study. Developed by researchers at MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, in collaboration with two other MRC Units and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, its goal is to help users evaluate the original research paper rather than the media stories or other reports the paper might have generated.
The Understanding Health Research tool helps users to answer crucial questions such as:
- What’s the difference between good and bad quality research?
- Why do the findings in one study appear to contradict the results in another?
- Which piece of expert advice should I really trust?
It includes a 'useful information' section which introduces the methods used in research and common sources of bias in studies, along with explaining health research concepts such as correlation and causation, scientific uncertainty and the use of statistics. The external sources section provides links to other appraisal tools and organisations that scrutinise research.
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