Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What Scientific Studies Really Mean to You - Stuart McRobert


Hardgainer 2.0 - 
Original 89-Issue Run of Hardgainer Magazine: 

Training magazines have many advertisements for food supplements. Scientific studies are often referred to, to try to add credibility to the advertisements. Advertising copy sometimes includes statements along the lines of "Proven to add 26% more muscle!" "Studies show 58% increased fat loss!" "Proven to boost testosterone production by 212%!"

What the advertisements don't tell you is that the studies may have been carried out on mice, geriatric women, convalescents, or other population samples that have nothing to do with healthy trainees engaged in vigorous exercise; and perhaps the population samples were tiny, and there was no control group. In some cases the "research" is fictitious, or real but misrepresented

Similar comments apply to training methods. Studies without peer review (evaluation of a person's work by a group of people in the same profession), or without publication in reputable journals, are sometimes selected to support a given method of training. Pseudo scientists and even some holders of of Ph.D. degrees, distort test results to "prove" what they or their sponsors want.

A line can be pulled out of a study or its abstract, and taken out of context to produce a conclusion that's at odds with what the study really indicates. Some quoted studies may not exist, and even legitimate studies may be interpreted incorrectly. Writers of advertising copy -- including advertorials -- know that hardly anyone will follow up on a quoted study.

When reading a study, or seeing a reference to one, what isn't know is the number of studies that refute the one being focused on. The whole of the area of research needs to be seen, not an isolated study.

The foregoing concerns the misuse of science, but there is good science. Good science has a valuable contribution to make toward understanding resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, nutrition, and recuperation in general. Here's how to find good science and help protect yourself from those who abuse science: 

1) Be suspicious when you hear or read of "incredible" results and claims, whether or not they are backed by science. Anything that seems to good to be true, is usually precisely that. The word "prove" shouldn't be used. Science doesn't prove anything, although it can disprove much. 

2) Be skeptical of advertisements that cite science. Some writers of articles and books are also guilty of citing pseudo science, or citing good science in a distorted manner. Follow up yourself, or find someone who can follow up on your behalf, and see if the reality matches with what was cited in the advertisement, article, or book.

3) Check that the studies are published in reputable journals. Studies that are unpublished, or not published in a reputable journal, haven't been through the process of rigorous peer review that usually sifts out the unreliable material. Although being published in a reputable journal isn't a guarantee of good science, it's a good sign, but not being published in a reputable journal is almost always a mark of poor science.

4) Look beyond a single study. Although one selected study may support whatever it is that's being promoted, the consensus of studies in that area may support a counter view. Science is a continuous process, with lots of checks and balances. The existence of many studies with good methodology in an area accumulates a web of evidence about certain mechanisms, associations, and relationships. One study doesn't change the entire field.

5) When possible, read a study in its entirety. Summaries and abstracts don't give the whole story. Sometimes the data in a study is at odds with the abstract of summary, possibly because the researcher didn't like the outcome, and preferred to present a different opinion. The different opinion may be reflected in the summary of abstract more than the actual results of the data. It's also possible that the researcher made a genuine mistake with the interpretation of the data. Check that the data agrees with the results claimed for the study. This takes discipline and experience. 

6) The internet provides free tools for research . . . 


Note: The monthly research review "Mass" (Monthly Applications in Strength Sports) may be of interest to some of you: 

A few sample articles for free: 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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