Writing Exercise #13

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

Can experiments detect differences that matter?

W.P. Hanage discussed how it can be hard to distinguish functional differences between microorganisms when we do not know what to look for. He also explains that until we can identify differences from gene sequences alone, we need to keep an open mind when analyzing similarities, because they may hold important differences we have not noticed yet.

Does the study show causation or correlation?

This is an important question because we may be assigning that organism as a cause of a certain disease, while it could just be a bystander. Studies do not usually look at reverse causation, so it is important to keep this in mind when reading studies.

What is the mechanism?

Hanage explains how correlation usually implies that a causal relationship may be in play. Thus, He advises that researchers use careful experiments to define the mechanism, and analyze the biochemical activity. Doing such things is crucial to understanding the true cause of diseases or disorders.

How much do experiments reflect reality?

Many studies are done in a sterile, controlled environment. This makes it difficult to accurately represent an animal in its natural state, and how it would respond to a microbe in reality. Although this format is entirely necessary for isolating variables and does a lot of preliminary work when finding causal relations, they are not very accurate to true life.

Could anything else explain the results?

Hanage stresses that findings tend to be exaggerated in the media, which influences an individual’s ability to make decisions. They are more likely to have an over-the-top reaction to a study due to the exaggerated nature of the media. It is important to analyze what else could explain the results found in the study, especially because researchers are not perfect and there are constantly studies coming out that are either a rebuttal for a study or support the study.

Which is most helpful when discussing controversy, and why?

I think the most important question to consider when discussing controversy is “How could anything else explain the results?”. This forces participants of a debate to think about how they would feel about the results if something else had caused it. It also allows some deep analysis of the methods in which the study was done. Was is sterile? Were there extenuating circumstances?

I think this question also allows participants of a debate to consider the other side.

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