I’ve spent the last five years learning how to interpret research, I know it isn’t easy.  I didn’t always know this.  I used to think I could read the conclusions of a paper, check out a few things and either incorporate it or ignore it.  The problem was, just like all humans, my trust in a paper was more related to how closely it resembled what I already believed than anything within the design of the study. Now when I read a paper I go through a long process of making decisions; What exactly is the research question? What theory does this study build from?Read More →

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for spending the summer learning how to read the statistics in research with me.  I hope you found the series helpful, and maybe it inspired you to read more research.  If so, I have a few resources you might like to know about. The Birthing Naturally Twitter Feed posts a different study about pregnancy, childbirth and the post-postpartum every day.  Follow the feed for daily links to relevant abstracts. The Cochrane Collaboration has a Pregnancy and Childbirth Group.  Their page provides easy access to the research summaries from their systematic reviews. When you search in PubMed,Read More →

You may have been wondering why I had not discussed qualitative research in this series.  The un-glamorous answer is that while qualitative research helps to inform practice, it doesn’t actually use statistics as we think about them. Statistics lives in the world of numbers, and is used in research that is called quantitative — basically because it counts things.  But qualitative research isn’t about counting things.  It is about openly exploring an area to gain perspective rather than statistical significance. So while quantitative studies as people to complete surveys and provide blood samples for testing, qualitative studies ask people open ended questions or observe howRead More →

Last time we talked about the unique contributions of a systematic review.  Today we will talk about how meta-analysis informs our practice. Remember, these are both techniques that synthesize existing data. This means just like a systematic review, a meta-analysis must be performed with rigor.  A very specific question should be asked, and inclusion and exclusion criteria defined before collecting available studies.  Multiple databases must be searched, and counts of excluded studies and the reasons should be kept. Where a meta-analysis differs is in the actual analysis. Remember when we talked about the importance of sample size to obtaining accurate estimates? Meta-analysis uses statistical techniques to poolRead More →

For today’s post, you might want to open a second window at the Cochrane Collaboration Website so you can scroll through what is available while we talk. One thing I have been trying to communicate (over and over and over) is that each study is only one small piece of the puzzle researchers use to help figure out what is going on.  Today we are going to talk about one tool researchers use to synthesize the available data, the Systematic Review.Read More →

Sometimes you want to understand the odds of an event that everyone in the group will not experience.  The best example in pregnancy and birth is the length of labor.  When you try to get an average length of labor you need to decide how to handle the labors that end in a cesarean birth. You see, some women will have zero labor because they will have a planned cesarean.  Other women will labor for a time and then have a cesarean.  Most of the women will labor and give birth vaginally.  If you include the cesarean births you may have falsely low estimates ofRead More →

We are nearly done with our discussion of statistics, so I wanted to take a day to discuss study quality. When researchers talk about the quality of a study they are considering the quality of the total package, not only the statistical significance of the findings. In fact, the quality of the study will affect the value the findings. There are two documents you should be familiar with before you begin to assess the quality of a study.  The first is the CONSORT Statement and the second is the STROBE statement. Read More →

One of the main reasons we invest our time into research (whether performing the science or reading the reports) is to understand how to avoid problems. We want to know what we can do to improve chances of a good outcome and have the best health.  We want to know what treatments are the most effective when a problem arises.  In short, we want to know what “causes” things — what causes a problem and what causes healing. One of the first things you learn as a researcher is that demonstrating cause is terribly difficult.  Why? To show causation means you have to show thatRead More →

We talked about a random sample last week.  Today we are going to talk about randomized controlled trials. The use of the term randomized in this context does not refer to the sampling method.  Randomized controlled trials use convenience sampling, meaning they recruit whoever is available and meets the enrollment criteria.  Because of this, randomized controlled trials are still subject to sampling bias. But what randomized controlled trials provide is study groups who should not differ on the characteristics that might confound the outcome.  For example, women who give birth at a birth center may think differently about birth than women who give birth atRead More →

On Wednesday we talked about why sample size matters.  Today I want to focus on how the sampling method affects the data. Basically, there are two ways to obtain a sample.  One way is to randomly select members of the population, and the other is to use whomever is available. To understand the difference, I want you to imagine you are a member of a midwifery organization.  That midwifery organization wants to learn something about its members — maybe they want to know how many families the average midwife works with each month.  How is sampling method likely to affect the data the organization collects?Read More →