Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Thoughts on a research tangent…

Guest post by Heather Ohly (Fuse loves guest posts too)

As an academic and Registered Nutritionist (RNutr), I get really annoyed with so-called professionals who give diet advice to members of the public that is not grounded in science. I’m not the only one. High profile writers like Ben Goldacre have been very critical of them, unfortunately tarring all ‘nutritionists’ with the same brush. My work includes nutrition (and public health) research, guidance, education and consultancy, all of which I aim to ensure are evidence-based.

Anyway, I decided that if I was to continue harping on about evidence-based nutrition, I really ought to learn how to do systematic reviews. This is the gold standard method used to review high quality scientific evidence. It follows a structure approach to identify, select, appraise and synthesize evidence relevant to a research question.

My opportunity came with a six month post at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School. The subject…Attention Restoration Theory, or in layman’s terms the effect of nature on our ability to concentrate or focus on a task…environmental psychology!

The great thing about systematic reviews is that the process is always fundamentally the same and you don’t need to be an expert in the field to do a good job. That is what I said in my interview, hoping it to be true! I have learned that, although it can be tricky to understand the terminology and research methods of different disciplines, a critical eye and an understanding of research principles are the most important skills. I would almost go as far as to say there are some advantages to not being an expert, since you do not have any conflict of interest or prior beliefs about the outcome of the review.

Working on this review has encouraged me to think about my own discipline from different perspectives and to step outside my comfort zone. It has been great working with an interdisciplinary team to shed new light on a subject that, while not my area of expertise, is really interesting. I hope that my next systematic review will be about nutrition or public health, and I know I will do a better job having done one on something completely different.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree. Cochrane decided to make it possible for amateurs to carry out reviews. This increased the manpower available but gross errors in analysis are traceable to the faults of RevMan and the lack of statistical understanding of its users. See "Overstating the Evidence" http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/9/10 and also Guernsey McPearson http://www.senns.demon.co.uk/Guernsey%20sums%20it%20up.htm .