If a fitness professional, medical professional, doctor, lecturer, your mother, friend, or brother make a claim, it needs to be supported by evidence. Of course there are different standards of evidence applied to different situations depending on how we gauge their importance, but when analysing medical science or health based claims (e.g. fitness industry related), then peer-reviewed, scientific research is the best available method for acquiring reality-based evidence. Abstracts are even freely available to the public over at Pubmed, and statistics can be accessed at ABS.
Criteria for Providing Evidence
Providing supporting research for a claim or opinion is one thing, but it should meet several criteria (Here I have listed only a few):
- Peer reviewed: so that the research has been scrutinised by other qualified professionals in the field, and found to meet a high standard.
- Actually support the claim: Why provide “supporting” evidence that doesn’t support a claim? It either means that the conclusions of the research haven’t been interpreted properly, or that the references were thrown in to lend an air of legitimacy to the claims in the hopes that nobody would check them.
- Not be superceded by more recent research: studies conducted in 1930 just don’t cut it if there’s more modern research available which is both valid and reliable.
- Be valid: does the design actually test the hypothesis and are the results applicable to the real world situation?
- Be reliable: If others were to repeat the experiment, would it give the same or similar results?
- Be balanced: It’s easy to cherry-pick data – providing references to scientific research in a bias manner in order to support preconceived points of view. It’s much harder, but more honest and rewarding, to review available research and adjust our opinions accordingly.
Be sceptical, be a critical thinker. Demand evidence, and try to avoid believing things for emotional or intuitive reasons, or simply because the local newspaper reported it as such. When this process fails the result is something along the lines of Crossfit, detox diets, acacia berry madness, homeopathy, “organic” food, and acupuncture.
Don’t take my word for it, go out there and gather some evidence.
What are your thoughts on critical thinking in fitness? Feel free to comment below!