Writing Exercise #13

Prompt: In W. P. Hanage’s article, he discusses the importance of five key questions when interpreting scientific literature:

Can experiments detect differences that matter?

Hanage discussed how it is often hard to distinguish functional differences in the world of microorganisms when we don’t already know what to look for or have characterized the network well already. Hanage used the example of profiling a microbiome and categorizing at the level of phyla, species or genes. We later learned the disadvantage from the criterion which researchers used for the different ratio of bacteria to distinguish microbes. Henage was able to connect this issue by discussing that until we can identify differences from gene sequences alone, we need to realize that any similarities we might notice may actually be hiding important differences that we haven’t realized yet.

Does the study show causation or correlation?

In most research trials explanations may fit the data, yet research often times doesn’t explore the reverse causality. Henge explored the importance of paying close attention to other factors that may be affecting the microbiome. A study about gut microbiomes and diet proposed a causal relationship after conducting a study between the gut microbiomes of seniors living in a assisted living facility and seniors living in the community. Although the data and proposal were fit together, the reverse causality, the potential for poor health to alter the gut microbiome, was not investigated. The less active immune system and differences in the digestion of frailer people could lead changes in the microbiome. The conclusion about the causal relationship was incorrect.

What is the mechanism?

As scientists we are taught that correlation is not causation, but correlation almost always implies some sort of causal relationship. Hanage discusses how correlation usually implies some sort of causal relationship. He explains how experiments can be designed to precisely define actions of components of microbiomes. Furthermore, Hange advises that the use of careful experiments to determine the mechanism and understand biochemical activity is crucial to understanding the true causes of microbial influences.

How much do experiments reflect reality?

The action of isolating only what is being examined to show more causation and understand the specific effects of a microbe doesn’t accurately represent a natural state or response. Just like the popular use of germ free mice doesn’t accurately represent the natural state of mice in the wild making it out of touch from reality.

Could anything else explain the results?

Researchers should think about a variety of variables that could also contribute to the results. Noticing other potential factors that could affect the results of a study and the way to analyze the data can influence the hypotheses and evaluate the conclusion.

Which is most helpful when discussing controversy, and why?

Out of these five questions, when it comes to which is most important when discussing controversies I would personally say defining the mechanism is the most helpful. This is because a lot of the uncertainty and questions about other potential factors comes from not knowing the specifics of what is happening. I believe if the research groups know the exact mechanisms that is occurring and the roles they play in the larger microbiome it will ultimately help provide clarity and a deeper understanding of microbial science.

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