If you would have asked me a few years ago, how important is knowing how to understand and decipher data and studies, I would have had no clue just how critical it is in public relations. There is so much information available to us through the Internet. Google searches, social media platforms, online journals, all of which have studies after studies available to us a click of a button.
With Facebook especially, news articles can be spread and go viral so quickly. If you are a public relations professional, and see this huge popularity on a subject or issue that your client can latch onto, it could mean more exposure and opportunities to speak on the issue.
But with these studies and news articles, there are always those that are fake, false, or using studies and data that is bias. So how do you tell which articles and studies are reliable and true? Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when looking at a study.
1. There is a huge difference between correlation and cause. If two groups of people start on a diet, one group (Group A) is told to eat from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed, every 3 hours. The other group (Group B) is told to eat only between the hours of 3PM-8PM. At the end of the first week the people in Group B loose more weight than Group A. So does that mean fasting causes more weight loss? No. It could be due to the fact Group B is eating less total calories in a day than those in Group A. Fasting didn’t cause the weight loss, reducing total calorie intake did.
2. Look at who is funding the study. If you see a headline saying, “Exercise more effective for weight loss than cutting down on soda”, but then see that Coca-Cola funded the study, there is a great chance that the study is biased. Always see where the funding is coming from and ask yourself, would that person/company funding it benefit from its findings.
3. Make sure to look that the groups are in a controlled environment. Let’s say you are looking at a study done on two groups of people looking at weight loss. Both groups are monitored in a lab during 8AM-6PM so that calories and activity can be tracked and monitored. However, at the end of the day they are allowed to go home. Whether the participants admit it or not, their environment is then uncontrolled. The participants could go home and then eat an additional 1,000 calories that are then unreported, but that do, definitely, affect the results.
4. Is the study peer reviewed? Peer reviewed articles and studies mean that several set of eyes of professionals in that field have examined the piece of writing and its findings, meaning it is more likely to be credible.