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Working out what’s reliable evidence
Are you looking at scientific research?
This page will help you work out if something is based on scientific research or not. It could be useful if you’ve received a response having asked for evidence, or [...]
Always ask: is it peer reviewed?
No matter how exciting or compelling a new piece of scientific or medical research is, you should always ask: Is it peer reviewed? And if not, why not? Journals have [...]
What kind of study was carried out?
There are a few basic types of scientific study that, once you know what they are, give you a much clearer way to question headlines or claims based on research. [...]
‘In vitro’ (e.g. test tube) studies
‘In vitro’ (meaning ‘in glass’) studies are where scientists investigate chemicals, microorganisms (e.g. bacteria) or tissue (e.g. skin cells in isolation) in test tubes or petri dishes in a lab. [...]
Animal studies are a useful way of modelling what happens in the human body, so they are central to the development of new medicines and cures, and to understanding human [...]
Studies observing people (sometimes called population, observational or epidemiological studies)
Epidemiologists (a kind of scientist) study how often diseases occur in different groups of people, and why. Their studies on populations will often report an association between a substance or [...]
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs)
These are the ‘gold standard’ of scientific studies because they are ‘controlled’. This means that steps have been taken to try to eliminate things that might have an influence beyond [...]
Drugs or treatments will pass through several stages of clinical trial before they are approved for widespread use. This is because the best way to find out whether a treatment [...]
One of the biggest challenges within scientific research is to interpret the results of individual studies in the context of other research that has been done. Although one small study [...]
Common pitfalls with studies and things to look out for
Is the study relevant? Just because you’ve seen or been sent a reputable scientific paper, you shouldn’t assume the research actually supports the claim, even if someone has said it [...]
Do the statistics back up the claim?
No matter what the scientific study, at some point scientists have to use statistics to interpret their results, and form their conclusions. Unfortunately, scientists can be as bad at statistics [...]
Anecdotes, testimonials and personal stories
Journalists often use anecdotes or personal stories to make their stories seem more relevant to people’s lives or emphasise why a piece of scientific research matters. They are usually presented [...]
Surveys, samples and opinion polls
Surveys collect information from a specific group of people, or a random sample of a wider population. A well-conducted survey can provide useful insights into people’s opinions or behaviour, but [...]
Who funded the study?
Vested interests can distort research in different ways, from directly setting up research questions that are biased towards a particular outcome, to selecting only certain results for publication, to the [...]