Three basic tips to help you understand COVID-19 studies


AUSTIN (KXAN) – Every day, there are more and more studies being published about COVID-19. Understanding those studies can be the difference between hope and hysteria. The good news is, there are some things you can easily check when you hear the words “a new study”.

To understand these tips, we’re going to use two recent examples. The first study explores if a mask can prevent you from touching your face. The second study examines how likely elementary students are to spread the virus.

Check the type of health study

There are two basic types of health studies out there: observational and experimental. Observational studies involve surveys and watching for patterns. Experimental surveys happen in a lab and usually involve multiple test groups, including a control group and a group that is being tested.

The mask study, example one, involved researchers observing people’s habits while on the street. They looked for how often people touched their face and recorded the differences between people wearing a mask and the people not wearing a mask.

The student study, example two, tested children in a lab for COVID-19. They included multiple test groups including children with symptoms and those without.

Generally, researchers consider the conclusions from an experimental study to be stronger than those from an observational one.

Check how people were included in the study

Usually, the more people included in a study, the lower the margin of error and the more representative the study is of the population.

In the mask study, 7,586 people were included with about a third of those observed after the pandemic began. The margin of error of this study is 1.08%. We can figure out this number using a formula that helps scientists figure out the minimal sample size they’ll need for their population.

The student study only checked 145 students. That’s an 8.16% margin of error on their results.

Look at where the study was published

Studies can pop up anywhere these days, but scientists will usually publish their results in a “peer-reviewed” journal. These journals were written by scientists for other scientists, as opposed to a magazine like “Time” which is meant to entertain.

Both examples were originally published in peer reviewed journals.

There are other factors you can also consider including the original hypotheses, the methodology, what are the variables, who paid for the study, if the publishing journal accepts advertising or offers reprint fees and were there any limitations listed in the article by the author.

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