Be cautious of any statement that includes "the research says..."
For those of us in the education profession we continually look to educational, phycological, medical and neuroscience research to guide and inform what we do within our school. With the availability of research allowing people to "self diagnose" through a google search there is no shortage of "the research says" claims!
Pshycology tells us that only research that paints a negative picture, captures the most shares on Facebook, populates the first pages of a google search or causes people to talk with others, gains attention. Unfortunately any literature that gets the most "likes" quickly carries influence, no matter how accurate it may be. If others think something is a risk, then it must be a risk - right? Just like the 6 o clock news, the positive or inconclusive stories never make headlines because they do not capture or easily hold attention.
This is a biological necessity that has helps us survive the dangers around us. As a species, those who did not pay enough attention to dangers around them did not survive. (You can only afford to make a mistake spotting the sabre tooth tiger once!) Coupled with this, if others tend to think something, we tend to also, as again, we relied on those around us to inform us of any dangers we might have missed. This predetermination to pay attention to dangers or sudden movements or unexpected sounds is essential even today and can be seen in babies from the earliest days. Driving a car for instance relies on the driver continually scanning for dangers, quickly moving over and disregarding the vast majority of things that pose no risk. Shopping at the supermarket relies on us searching for and focusing on those things we are after and disregarding the thousands of other products on the shelves.
As a person who looks to research almost daily to inform our practice, it is important to be able to navigate "research claims" and "research evangelists" and ask certain questions before paying too much attention to any claims. What makes the whole "the research says" debate more difficult is that the vast majority of research that is considered valid, rather than popular or feed our predetermination to seek things that cause harm, will not appear on a google search. These research findings sit behind paid subscriptions to onlline journals, University libraries, paid online papers etc and are invisible to normal search engines.
The most important words to look for in any research literature is "cause" vs "correlation" vs "indicates" vs "suggests." Researchers use the word "cause" differently to the rest of us. From a research lens, a causal effect means that A causes B without any shadow of doubt. Researchers use the word "cause" very carefully. Anything with a causal effect means that all the experts agree that A causes B. Its a claim of absolute certainty.
Correlation by contrast means that there might be a link, in some cases, in some conditions, but there are many variables that are as yet unknown and their influence is unclear. Most of the research that we come across reveals correlational links that then relies on the researcher to infer what variables has caused the correlation. For instance, there is a correlational link between the amount of ice cream sold and crime rates. Does eating ice cream cause more crime? Or is it that during the summer months people tend to eat more ice cream, be outside more, be away from home and leave windows open?
We like to say cause as it helps to simplify complex and hard to understand concepts that makes it easier for us to understand!
The questions I find most helpful in helping to consider any research claims or findings are below. Hopefully these might help the next time anyone says "the research says" to help us be more equipped to make up our own mind about its validity.