Reading research articles can be so tedious… genuine teeth grinding experience.
All these technical terms, the minutia of the interaction between basic science of different fields (i.e., anatomy, cell biology, physics, etc.) and medicine. And then there’s math, and in specific, statistics.
And what do we do with research articles that claim one thing and others who supposedly checked the same thing – and claim opposite results?
I will write in the next few weeks, here and there, some articles about research, one of my favorite topics.
Today, I'll go over 3 pointers that shed a little light on the complex, behind the scenes world of research.
I’ll go over why it is confusing or difficult at times to understand articles.
Many of us that do research, and even love research, complain about research! And why?
Because it is not so straightforward, transparent, and certainly, it takes time to incorporate new frameworks that expand the accuracy or realities that we try to examine.
The scientific world is taking bigger and faster steps to catch up with how we are perceiving life, but at the same time, it moves slowly to accept some of the things we thought were accurate, but are not, according to new knowledge.
Example: Epigenetics! Genes do not determine our destiny... We know now that the environment and behavior can affect how our genes work.
Pointer number one: Research starts with theories that explain the world and hence the theory determines how research is done.
By the way: Theories are my passion and love.
We always do research from a theoretical framework. Some scientists forget that.
Most research in the field of medicine falls under a huge world theory called “Mechanism” (see Pepper, World Hypotheses, one of my favorite books on theories and research).
Mechanism explains that the world is like a machine with many parts that work together, and that the machine “rests” unless it is responding to stimulation from the environment.
This is the reason why much of research is about measuring how the body responds to certain stimulation, which is the element or variable we are measuring – a drug, a food, a supplement, bodywork, exercise, meditation, etc.
Mechanism is a theory that examines a causal relationship: a variable that affects a specific something (a drug that affects a specific disease).
However, we also have an opposing world theory that affects how research is done (there are four all together). This theory is called “Organicism” which means that the whole world is inter-connected and is like a huge puzzle with pieces that come together. This is a great theory for examining living organisms because we are, as human beings (or animals, plants, etc.), part of a huge living system.
Yet, in research, we solely rely on one world theory that breaks everything to small parts, examine one or two elements (variables) and how they cause an effect on or in our body.
It is one reason why it is hard to keep up with “what really works” – the reality is that there are too many interactions and inter-connections between many things within and outside the body to know how one variable really creates an effect.
In other words, we ourselves are variables upon variables. We are complex living organisms (plural) with layers upon layers of stuff happening!
So what do we do with research articles that claim one thing and others who supposedly checked exactly the same thing – and claims opposite results?
Pointer number two: Always check where the scientist is working at, where the money and grants come from, and who might benefit from the results of the research.
There is a hidden factor from view that complicates the results of research. I call this phenomenon - the politics of research - the money that makes it all possible to do research, and the institutions or corporations that, on one hand, can give generously, and on the other hand, expect a payback (a certain result).
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Money or researchers' place of work can complicate a research and skew the results. It is difficult to get a handle on an article that seemingly is examining a familiar subject, and yet has such vastly different interpretation.
Reading such a contradictory article feels as though we are going on a straight road and then suddenly, the road takes a sharp turn or a detour.
At times, scientists make such a big deal about not being influenced by a certain corporation, grant, or even an employer. Why? It is difficult to maintain an ethical path when money is involved so intimately with science.
Yet, at other times, these detours are exactly what we need. An expansion of how we view things, or a vastly different result that opens the door to think differently on how we study and do research.
So which is it? A political act to please a money source or a genuine discovery?
Scientists, in fact, were not raised to create a clear argument; they are not philosophers, or theorists - they were trained to design simple mechanistic research, then collect and analyze data, come to conclusions, and add their research to the ongoing field that is their community.
To translate this: Scientists do not live to make it simple, they know very deeply that their research is a tiny spec in a very large universe. But research does add up! It is called history, and at times, it can be so very rich, and at times very misleading.
Pointer number three: There is history to all “streams” of research. Streams are topics that are examined repeatedly from different points of view, different elements, and variables. Example: Blueberry and brain power! Blueberry and memory, heart, etc. I love this stream of research because I know the scientists.
Where do you find the history? The stream of research?
You find the history in the Introduction where scientists try very hard to explain what has happened already in the specific area they want to focus on. We call it the literature review section of an article.
At times, you can also find it in the discussion part of the article.
Next time, I will get more into this ‘history’ part of research and how to navigate a complex story that scientists develop in the abstract and introduction, and much more.
Check Green Facts and an article on how the Cell Biology field is interacting with medicine!
- Azevedo, S., Seixas, M. R., Jurberg, A. D., Mermelstein, C., & Costa, M. L. (2021). Do medicine and cell biology talk to each other? A study of vocabulary similarities between fields. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 54.
- Pepper, S. C. (1942). World hypotheses: A study in evidence(Vol. 31). Univ of California Press.
Yours as always,
Dohrea Bardell, PhD President BioImmersion Inc.
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On Medicine and Cell Biology:
Azevedo, S., Seixas, M. R., Jurberg, A. D., Mermelstein, C., & Costa, M. L. (2021). Do medicine and cell biology talk to each other? A study of vocabulary similarities between fields. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 54.
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