Scientific knowledge accumulates one paper at a
time, but a single report published in a professional
journal is not the final word on any issue.
knowledge accumulates one paper at a time, but a single report
published in a professional journal is not the final word
on any issue. Scientists take great care in reporting their
methods, results, and conclusions so that others can judge
the work for themselves, possibly repeat the experiment or
follow up on the subject. After years - sometimes decades
- of experimentation, the scientific community may reach a
consensus on a given topic. Or they might remain locked in
controversy. In the face of scientific uncertainty, how do
scientists or policy-makers decide what to do?
"Should each physician keep track of every study? That's a
big task," says Dr. Tim Carey, co-Director of the Evidence-Based
Practice Research Center (EBRC) in Durham, N.C. "Evidence-based
practice and medicine is a way to address that by looking
in a critical and unbiased way at all of the evidence around
a particular question and arriving at an answer."
John Longhurst attempts to measure acupuncture's affect
on blood pressure.
and his colleagues at the EBRC help scientists, professional
societies, insurance companies and policy-makers cut through
controversies. EBRC Scientists have reviewed the effectiveness
of treatments for treatments for pre-term labor, speech and
language tests in early childhood, the use of aspirin in the
prevention of heart attack, screening techniques for diabetes
and blood lipids, and - currently - treatments for a childhood
in other scientific endeavors, EBRC scientists start with
a question, then rule out all the research that doesn't specifically
answer that question.
According to Carey, good scientific studies have
several elements in common. "Clear question, robust methods,
good measures, well-applied statistical techniques, and
find it's important to spend a fair amount of time and effort
refining the question. That's true of any research," says
Carey. "These systematic reviews are a lot like doing clinical
study, but in stead of studying patients, we're studying articles."
the question has been narrowly defined, EBRC scientists comb
through thousands of research papers, eventually culling perhaps
as few as 20 to 40 to review. The researchers then summarize
each study's conclusions and weigh the evidence, based on
the scientific integrity of the paper. Every research question
will lend itself to different experimental methods, but, according
to Carey, good scientific studies have several elements in
question, robust methods, good measures, well-applied statistical
techniques, and clear descriptions," he lists.
each paper has been judged on these criteria, EBRC can then
make recommendations to policy-makers working on health-care
legislation or to insurance companies looking for the most
cost-effective procedures to cover.
Eric Small compares the data generated in his clinical
Over the last several centuries, the modern scientific method
has served humanity extremely well. In industrial nations,
modern medicine has added decades to our life spans, and technology
has increased the quality of our lives immeasurably. Still,
faith in our human senses leads some to trust compounds and
practices not yet subjected to the rigors of modern science.
Some alternative medicines and therapies could very well be
effective and useful. But until more scientists do more research,
no one can say for sure.
Art of Renaissance Science
Visit this illustrated site to learn more about
Galileo and the connections between art and science in the
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