Volume 94, Issue 88

Thursday, March 8, 2001


Editorial Board 2000-2001

A reason to study

A reason to study

Everyday hundreds of studies are being published, on all areas of life. Sociology, biology, education, medicine, humanities, psychology, and many more.

One recent study in the area of education, done by two University of Windsor economic professors, found Ontario universities are inflating grades, based on comparisons between marks in the 1973-74 school year and the 1993-94 year.

Critics of these findings have pointed out only seven of the 15 schools contacted actually participated, making the sample size small. Moreover, figures from only two years were used for comparison, 1973 and 1993, not the years in between.

A Statistics Canada study showed graduating with a student debt is not a deterrent from attending graduate schools. Student groups have argued these findings are invalid as the group of graduates followed finished school in 1990 and now, the debt loads are much higher.

These two particular studies can now be added to the endless list of research findings that purport to make strides in the field of research.

Most would say that research has a lot of value and is necessary. New medications, procedures and treatments need to be tested before they can be offered to the public. Studies showing the causes of various social problems, such as violence and poverty, are the first steps towards solving those problems.

No matter what you decide to do later in life, you will most likely come across studies relating to your chosen career, health, or lifestyle.

But studies cannot be taken at face value. There are a lot of factors the public has to take into consideration when reading research findings.

One must know the difference between correlation and causation studies. The former is simply saying when A is found, B is usually found with it. Causation studies, on the other hand, are saying A causes B.

The source of funding is also very important to identify. If a study looking at the benefits of beer is funded by a beer company, then perhaps the results have been skewed a little. Many times, studies funded by corporations are nothing more that advertising tools. That is not to say these findings should be discarded, but their primary funders need to be taken in context. It is important to look for unbiased funding providers and unbiased researchers.

So be skeptical and critical about the findings, but also understand these papers are written to help the average person understand what was found out. Usually a summary or abstract of the study is insufficient to determine how seriously to take the findings. The full publication needs to be read so the reader can look for any flaws with the research.

With all of this in mind, you should not be deterred in reading about the latest findings in fields which interest you. Research is the first step in improving the lives of people and building a better future. Just be your own critic and read between the lines of the paper.

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