I thought this would be a good topic for some general discussion. In some of the “top stories” feed below I see some really questionable ones. For example, the story about Oreos being as addictive as Cocaine. Did anyone actually click through and read the article? It seems like a pretty stupid study to me. In test #1, they gave a lab rat the choice to go through a maze with two endings. One with an oreo and one with a rice cake. The rat preferred the oreo. Next they put the lab rat in the maze where one end had toe reward of cocaine and one end had the reward of a water/saline solution. They rat preferred the cocaine. Now suddenly, there is an article saying Oreos are as Addictive as cocaine!!! It’s pretty ridiculous, yet as personal trainers and group-x instructors these are exactly the kinds of tidbits and news bites we post on our facebook walls for our clients to see. Aren’t we doing them a disservice? How about the article about the “Best poses for digestion” also linked in the top stories news feed. Did you click through and read the fine print that this is based on a SINGLE yoga instructors opinion, with no scientific research to back it up? It frustrates me the amount of bad info we spread to our clients based on sensational titles. How much research do you put in to the things you share on your Facebook and Twitter feeds to your clients? Do you make a conscious effort to correct the misinformation out there? It seems like sometimes, we as professionals are our own worst enemies! What do you think?
Some years ago when my husband was working at the NIH one of his research assistants came to him about some matter and asked “What do they say about this?”, and my husband answered “They are us.” Some who enter into our profession choose to work within the research rather than the clinical part of the field, and become ‘them’. Those who do the research have an obligation both to understand the difference between a really well designed and a poorly designed study, and to care enough to do quality work, rather than quantity. Look back to the research study that showed the link between Rhys syndrome and children’s aspirin for a classic example of beautifully done research.
More of us enter what would be considered the clinical rather than the research arm of fitness. We work directly with people utilizing rather than creating the research. However, we do not loose our obligation to understand the difference between good and poor research. We not only have an obligation to read what is current, but to read critically: what is the ‘n’?, is there a double blind?, how is the control structured? etc…. AND do other studies back up this research, AND is this a peer reviewed journal? Keep in mind there are a plethora of journals that take money to publish research. (There is a gentleman who has a site that lists such spurious journals, and has shown the incredibly bad research they publish…. for a price). The point is before we share information with our students and clients we need to do due diligence to make sure it is accurate, and that we nuance the way we present it …. e.g. “there are a couple of small studies suggesting this, but more needs to be known” And absolutely we need to know the difference between a case study and a pro or retrospective study, and a controlled clinical trial.
The third part of this is what is sometimes called ‘the fourth estate’. The press is a powerful tool of either information or misinformation. We cannot control what major media, or the internet as a whole presents, but those of us who blog, or write articles, or give interviews have an obligation to have our facts, to write without sensationalism, and to present various sides of an issue. This does not mean that we cannot editorialize; you do not need to put the point of view of cigarette manufacturers in an article on smoking and cancer, for example. But if you are going to make a conclusion based on scientific research and present this to any number of people you should know the facts and the opinions well enough to be able to stand behind what you say.
Of course, we have to remember the kids game where the first child in the circle whispers something in the ear of the next, and by the end of the circle the whisper is never the same. Even when research is impeccable, and impeccably presented, the public consuming it will not always hear it directly from the source, or have the context to get the whole thing. So we need to keep repeating the important points, because communication needs both mouths and ears to work well.
The profit motive is also an important part of this question. It takes a lot of time to do things well,(whether it is doing, reading, or communicating information) and if we can make more money by taking a shorter route there will always be some who choose that route.
So, yes. We need to read carefully. We need to write carefully. We need to be nuanced in our communication. Yes, there is some fuzzy thinking out there, some fuzzy research, and some fuzzy writing. There is nothing wrong with a piece on best poses for digestion by one teacher, as long as that is made clear in the piece, and we make it clear if we share it, and if when we communicate it as a fitness professional we do so from a base of knowledge to which we have added this as one piece and put into that context.
For me though, I see more to be hopeful about, and proud of within our community. The vast majority of those with whom I work set a high standard, are quite knowledgeable, want to understand more, and see themselves as and act as professionals.