Here’s a common research flaw to watch out for … if you need to watch out for research flaws … which isn't actually part of most job descriptions. So I guess this post is more about me telling you that I am paying attention to these things, so that you don’t have to? 😉
Summarizing a recent editorial in British Journal of Sports Medicine:
Many non-drug treatments are tricky to test, because it’s hard to compare them to a true fake treatment (like a comparing a drug to a sugar pill). Many researchers resort to comparing a treatment to some other treatment that we hope is kind of “neutral.”
It’s a trap! Comparing a test treatment to an “active control” is quite likely to be misleading, because the active control pollutes the experiment with all kinds of unknown variables.
The point of this BJSM editorial is that these kinds of studies “need to be interpreted with caution.” YA THINK?!
It doesn’t mean that studies using this tactic are always wrong, of course, but it is a major limitation that has to be taken seriously. And “these kinds of studies” constitute a large percentage of studies in musculoskeletal medicine.