Evidence-based or fake news: how to make sense of (ADHD) research
Updated: Apr 17, 2022
If you're a bit nerdy, like me, you'll want to have advice on ADHD that is evidence-based. That's why I summarize current ADHD research in an ADHD-friendly style in this blog.
Here, let's take a quick look at how to weed out "fake news" to get to "evidence". I'll show you how to easily make sense of (ADHD) research, so you can gauge the strength of research studies themselves or (media) reports about the research findings.
How scientists tell truth from fake news
Scientists conduct studies to try to find the "truth".
Example of a "truth": smoking dramatically increases your risk of lung cancer.
They do fancy calculations to ensure that their results are meaningful and not due to chance or luck. However, theoretically, the result of a single experiment can always be caused by chance or an unknown factor we did not consider.
Please forgive this idiotic example: just because you see many red cars on several Mondays, but not on any other days, does not mean that Mondays cause red cars. It can be by chance or by an unknown factor (a red-car-enthusiast meeting that takes place on Mondays that you don't know about. Because, honestly, who would come up with something like that.).
So even if we have a correlation, we don't know anything about causation (if you want a real example from ADHD research, take a look at this short post about meds and work).
Getting to "evidence-based"
So when you want to know if something is true, you generally look for several studies about the same issue. And if most of the studies point in the same direction, then we'll say something is "evidence-based".
There's also a process called a meta-analysis. We look at all the studies ever done on a subject, rigorously analyze how well they were done, look at the results in total, and then give a rating about how solid the evidence is. If I've just put you to sleep with details, here's the gist of it:
As long as we only have individual studies, take them with a grain of salt. The more studies point in the same direction, the more solid the evidence, and the more likely a conclusion is truly evidence-based.
Scientists are doing their best to chase down what is true and what is caused by chance. But this is often difficult, and research funding is limited.
vague & ambiguous = trustworthy
And remember, even if something is true in general, it doesn't mean that you can't be the exception. In either direction.
For example: just as everyone knows somebody who smoked for decades and lived to a ripe old age without getting lung cancer, many of us have lost people to lung cancer that never smoked in their lives.
Scientific evidence is often frustratingly vague and ambiguous. That's a sign of trustworthiness. Most things aren't black or white but way more complex. Still, it's not that hard to draw valuable conclusions.
I'm going to do my best to help do this for current ADHD research right here on this blog. So you can make sense of it without having to dig through the original research publications.