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Why so much research is so so so poor

In a terrific article in the New York Times, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, who is an American pediatrician and a regular contributor to those pages, makes a compelling argument about why so much obesity research is not worth the time, effort, or money put into it.

It’s a damning critique that can be applied to a great deal of other medical research, too, probably the majority, I fear.

And it all starts really, with researchers wanting to come up with “positive” results because after all, it’s just human nature not to want to acknowledge that what you’ve just spent so much effort on didn’t really turn up anything new or useful.

We remember the winners, we do not remember the losers.

There are at least 5 ways research results go sideways, according to Carroll, with the most important ones being, I think, that 1) in far too many studies, researchers just don’t do a good enough job in establishing that the participants in whatever intervention they are studying did any better than those participants in a random un- associated control group, 2) believing study participants about what they claim to have done rather than measuring things objectively (“Well, of course, I exercises 4 times a week and ate only veggies, and oh yes, don’t forget, I also flossed twice a day, too”), and 3) (and this is the one that’s most grating) researchers massaging the study results so that something that wasn’t really significant according to the original criteria in the study was, on deeper analysis, something you should pay attention to (Not!).

Bottom line: We will make no dent in the effort to reduce obesity rates till we pay much stricter attention to the criteria (and ethics) of the studies we are paying so much for.