Reading scientific papers

“Natural” childbirth advocate like to declare to all that they are “educated” about childbirth. However, the only way to be truly educated is to read the scientific literature. Therefore, I highly recommend two posts about reading scientific papers that I found in a rather surprising place.

Consider the following quotes:

Start with the abstract, a short summary of what the article contains. The abstract will give you a brief overview of the article and its contents. Keep in mind that abstracts are not comprehensive, and are written by the study authors. They are in a sense similar to theatrical trailers. You can often get the basic gist of what the article is about from the abstract, but just like a well-done movie trailer can make a bad movie look good, you can’t gauge the quality of an article by the abstract alone. Read the whole thing! (emphasis in the original)


… The biases that we have act as a filter that alters our reactions to the research. If we already have our minds made up that induction of labor = bad, then any research on labor induction is going to be seen through that filter. Any research that seems to place induction in a favorable light will be seen has highly suspicious. Any minor flaws will be exaggerated. Any research showing bad outcomes from inductions will likely get a “free pass” and flaws may be overlooked….

… I have, over the years, seen the best and worst of research used to back up various points, ignoring the quality (of lack of it!) as long as it agrees with them. This is a normal human tendency, and one that is at the heart of many discussions about the available research.

It sounds like I could have written either of them, but I didn’t. They come from Andrea Lythgoe and Amy Romano writing on the Lamaze website Science and Sensbility. Bravo to them for acknowledging that being educated starts with reading the scientific literature.