One of the Founding Fathers of the Barefoot Movement and my barefoot brother, Dr. Ray McClanahan, is the founder of CorrectToes. Their toe spreaders recently showed some great results in a research article published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation studying the impact of 4wks in minimalist shoes plus toe spreaders on balance.
Now, you've probably heard my views on scientific research. I generally speak out about the dangers and biases of the research. You will hear me say that we should use research as a guide, not a parent. This means that research is something to look at as a guide to try experiments and not as the truth or end-all-be-all.
That being said, it's also valuable to have some frameworks that help evaluate research studies to understand their applicability to your question and the biases that may exist.
In Medical School they taught us how to do this, and I often forget that it's something that most people didn't learn.
So, here are some tips:
1. Read the ABSTRACT enough times that you can state it in your own words. If you don't understand the abstract, you're going to have a hard time reading through the paper.
2. Read the INTRODUCTION to understand the researchers worldview and intentions. This will give you lots of info on the real angle they're approaching this from.
3. Read the METHODS to get a deep understanding of the process they undertook to execute the research study and the way they analyzed the results. Check what kind of study was performed. A randomized controlled trial is the gold standard of research and there are times where it's just not feasible. Also, keep an eye out for the number of participants; the smaller the sample size, the less reliable is the data. If something doesn't feel right or make sense, it's likely that there were gaps in the study that created a bias. Take notes on the feelings that come up. Often, you can submit questions to the Journal.
4. Read the RESULTS to see what the numbers showed. Again, take notes on your feelings while reading this section. Every research study has gaps and they are not easy to see because the researchers usually don't tell you what they missed.
5. Read the DISCUSSION to see the conclusions that the researchers have decided to make based on the data. This part is usually the most subjective and really holds a ton of huge gaps. Remember that data can be twisted to tell any story so try to see through it from an objective perspective. They've already primed you with the Introduction and even the methods and results so really try to recenter yourself before reading the discussion.
6. Study everything about the article. It's important to know where the study came from, what year it was published, who ran it, what other studies have they published, where the money came to from to fund the research, what other research has come out of the facility, and many more questions.
7. It's important to read the whole article more than once.
Performing research is very complex and so reading it can be just as tricky. There is a lot more depth to the art of reading research studies and skill comes with practice.
Remember that who the research was performed on is really important. Are the study participants similar enough to you (or the people who you are finding answers for) to make it applicable?
And always, always remember that the best guinea pig is yourself. The most important research you can perform is you with yourself.