An online publication called “Journalists’ Resource” recently posted a really helpful article about academic studies.
By this time, most sentient beings understand that we live in a world ruled by confirmation bias: the process of cherry-picking data in order to confirm our pre-existing beliefs and prejudices. We all do it–us “good guys” as well as those who (since they disagree with us) are clearly wrong. And when we encounter an academic study that confirms our positions, we’re excited.
See? I was right!
For those of us who do try to seek out different perspectives, who make an effort to step back and be analytical and measured, credible research is important. The problem is, not all research is reliable, and relatively few people have the statistical and methodological skills to assess the credibility of a given study.
That’s why this article is so useful. It gives journalists–and by extension, the rest of us–a “map” for determining whether and to what extent a study’s conclusions are reliable.
Journalists should also be well aware that most academic research contains careful qualifications about findings. The common complaint from scientists and social scientists is that news media tend to pump up findings and hype studies through catchy headlines, distorting public understanding. But landmark studies sometimes do no more than tighten the margin of error around a given measurement — not inherently flashy, but intriguing to an audience if explained with rich context and clear presentation.
The rest of the article is well worth reading; it lists the questions one should ask, defines scholarly terms, and provides context for figuring out what a particular study is really telling us. Or not.
Really helpful–assuming we are looking for information, and not just ammunition.