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How to do Online Research
(Part 1 of 2)
Is Your Google Search “Research?”

Ready to conduct research?
Ready to conduct research?

A lot of people seem to be confused about something called “research.” So they sit down and type into Google, “tell me what I want to hear.” Then they read one or two of the top results that confirm what they already believed.

What you’re engaging in is called confirmation bias. You’re only looking for information consistent with your beliefs or desires while ignoring anything or anyone that disagrees. It seems that most people aren't interested in finding the truth. They want to be told that what they already believe is true. That’s not how research works.

Google (and most search engines) are designed to provide information you want to read. For example, if you believe the earth is flat, it’s pretty easy to search “flat earth proof,” and you get dozens of websites that say we’re living on a giant disc, or a donut, or on a plate supported by elephants and a giant turtle.

What those websites do is make arguments, sprinkled with half-truths and scientific fallacies, to try and convince you of a lie. If you go no further, it’s easy to end up believing something that’s not true.

The first problem is the source. That Facebook meme, Tik Tok video, or Reddit discussion thread, is not as valid as a double-blind placebo-controlled study published in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal.

They are both opinions, but the clinical study is backed up with verifiable data. It’s put together into a paper that has been reviewed, critiqued and corrected by experts in the field. Everything has been documented so other researchers can reproduce the results.

Your Facebook gif does not have the same weight of proof. It shouldn’t be a badge of honor to show ignorance or share ignorance. Instead, it’s an embarrassment that can hurt or kill people.

Doing real research is challenging. In 2003, a client asked me a simple question. “Is it true I should drink eight glasses of water a day?” A quick search online showed hundreds of health and fitness websites repeating the claim, but none of them could document why.

It took my team and me five years, reading over 240 clinical studies, wading through more than 1,800 research citations and interviewing more than two-dozen medical professionals to get a proper answer.

In March of 2008, doctors Dan Negoianu and Stanley Goldfarb released a report titled“Just Add Water,” where they looked into the eight glasses a day idea along with several others floating around the internet. What did they conclude?

There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water. Although we wish we could demolish all of the urban myths found on the internet regarding the benefits of supplemental water ingestion, we concede there is also no clear evidence of lack of benefit. In fact, there is simply a lack of evidence in general.”

Dr. Goldfarb said, “A little mild dehydration for the most part is OK, and a little mild water excess for the most part is OK. It’s the extremes that one needs to avoid...”

That was the answer. Unless you’re drinking a prescribed amount of fluid under doctor’s orders, you should let your thirst be your guide. If you’re thirsty, drink more. When you’re not, stop. It’s that simple. It wasn’t the neat little answer most people had grown up accepting, but it was the right answer, backed by research.

If you’re trying to get the facts, you need to research with reputable sources. Here are three.

For rumors, memes, or conspiracies, a great resource is snopes.com. This is what they do in their own words.

When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust, Snopes’ fact-checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. We always link to and document our sources so readers are empowered to do independent research and make up their own minds.”

For clinical studies on drugs, supplements, medical procedures, or treatments, your first stop should be pubmed.gov. I like to keep a dictionary handy to look up some of the big words, but it’s worth it. Here’s what they provide. `

PubMed® comprises more than 30 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.”

When those aren’t enough, consider expanding your search to Google Scholar at scholar.google.com.

As of January 2021, Google Scholar looks through more than 160 million sources. Google searches articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions.

Once you get the studies, you’re not done yet. You still have to look at the information critically. Click Here, and I’ll tell you how to analyze it all.

Part 1 2

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Updated 5/25/2021
Updated 7/12/2021