Demonstrate Rigor When Communicating Research Outcomes

Funding News Edition: September 20, 2023
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In an August 10, 2023 Perspectives post, Dr. Devon C. Crawford of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke presented the topic of Addressing Rigor in Scientific Studies.

Separately, we’ve heard from investigators who are concerned that key research findings may fail to break through with the public in an environment of misinformation and distrust. Demonstrating a research project’s rigor is more important than ever, whether for a scientific or lay audience.

As Dr. Crawford points out, science communication is rapidly evolving, and the growing use of preprints and the sheer number of published studies make it increasingly difficult to determine which findings are worthy of attention. It’s important to recognize that not all scientific studies are created equal.

As a result, communicators need to discern which studies are reputable in order to know what to convey to their target audience. Inaccurate or untrustworthy information can have dire consequences, so it is important to understand how to assess whether studies have robust findings and how to communicate this to audiences.

Science communicators also need to describe the major conclusions from a study, along with its implications for future research and public health practice, without overstating the results. Science is a continual process of updating knowledge that is conditional on how the results were obtained; it is not a series of discovered “facts.” All scientific conclusions are subject to interpretation, and all have some degree of uncertainty.

Responsible science communicators will report important details of a study: the number of subjects, species involved, techniques used, major outcomes, and caveats. However, even this level of reporting does not provide enough information to know how much to trust the results.

The rigor and transparency of a study are key for gleaning the robustness of its results. This includes the design, implementation, analysis, and interpretation of experiments. If a study’s validity isn’t known, the rest is moot.

How does one know if a study is rigorous? And how can this be communicated to broad audiences? A single person can’t keep up with all of the limitations of every scientific approach, and even savvy readers of original research articles need to beware of mistaking “spin” for reasonable conclusions within a given study. Fortunately, there are some generally agreed-upon principles of rigorous research that apply across fields and methods.

Learn more by reading Addressing Rigor in Scientific Studies by Dr. Crawford. You may also want to refer to the following resources:

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