How to navigate in a world that is constantly reporting scientific findings?

Prof. Liv Grimstvedt Kvalvik
About the Author

Dr. Liv G.Kvalvik is a medical doctor specialized in reproductive epidemiology and a postdoc at the University of Bergen (Norway) and works with registry data to study smoking habits among pregnant women.

In the Eat2beNICE project, the researchers aim at studying the effect of diet and mental health and our blogs are meant to enlighten readers.

Everyday research findings published in journals will offer an opinion on how to best live our lives. It is simply not possible, nor advised, to change your habit after every piece of new knowledge. On the other hand, researchers do need to publish their results in order to have their findings discussed and reproduced. How do you as a reader navigate?

No single study should alone be enough to change nutritional advice or guidelines. The research into a specific field is best understood when looking at several pieces of knowledge (or publications) as contributing to a bigger picture. Kim Tingley wrote a descriptive picture in the New York Times Magazine on how to view scientific findings [1]. There, he writes that the process of understanding the contribution of scientific research should be like looking through a lens and asking yourself if it is clearer or less clear with this particular piece of new information.

Interpreting results from a study isn’t always easy and the limitations of the study can sometimes be difficult to spot. If you are feeling bombarded by the media with constant new findings, be aware that single findings are one piece of information, usually not the full picture and should be interpreted as such. For more information on matters of interest, a good place to start is looking at literature reviews or in the Cochrane Library [2], which will offer views on important publications within a field and help you interpret the status quo.