As many of you know I have a hard time joining the bandwagon for fads, poor science and bad research studies/interpretations. Alex Hutchinson writes some pretty good stuff for Runners World. Most recently he wrote about a controversial study that has been bandied about in the press over the past couple years. The study used flawed statistics that lead them to the conclusion that basically stated very little running is bad for you and that running can shorten your life. Study conclusions have to be closely scrutinized. Just a few considerations…
- What population is studied? (i.e. results of sedentary adults may have no relationship to active adults)
- Was it a study of non-runners (other sports)? (i.e. basketball or soccer as related to distance runners)
- Is there a built-in bias from the researchers? (i.e. almost all studies end up finding what they are looking for; sponsored research by-product manufacturers find their product “works”)
- Has the study been replicated? (i.e. sometimes anomalies happen even with controls – replicating minimizes that chance)
- Are there controls or control groups? (i.e. the Placebo Effect is alive and well)
Sometimes studies are well designed, use proper statistical and control techniques to show valid results which can indeed guide us to better training. Even then it is the over-reaching application of results that can be in err. Here is a good example of that big research revelation about sitting too much that has a balanced view (see his summary paragraph if you don’t want to read his entire evaluation of the data and corroborating studies). And here is another balanced take on the static stretching pre-workout research. Note in the end he owns his interpretation while substantiating his reason.
I know that media sources and the advent of electronic media and media sharing get a lot of the blame. But media – no let me rephrase that – reporters and writers love cool things to report on. It’s like a popularity contest. So before you take the next exercise research revelation to heart – consider not only the media source but the author as well. I will tend to buy into someone’s point who has knowledge and balance. I think Hutchinson has it right when he states, “The cooler and less probable the result, the more we should suspend our judgment until others can verify it.”