“Do your research!”

A line I see gracing every discussion about alternative therapies, diet, medical conditions and parenting decisions from breastfeeding to vaccination. But can you really do your research? Do most of us even know what that constitutes?

Parents- Do Your Research?

Take, for example, the issue of vaccination. I’m someone who has read up on vaccination extensively over the past 10 years. This includes books, publications put out by health authorities, studies and websites maintained by everyone from people with as many scientific/medical credentials as I have (so, zero) to those maintained by people with qualifications in medicine, science and research. Does this not mean that I have done my research?

vaccines cause autism

It really depends on who you talk to. In my opinion, the answer is no. Compared to the people who have spent years studying, who conduct formal research, who author studies, publish their findings and submit them for peer review? No, I haven’t done “research”. I’ve done some reading. I’ve applied logic to what I’ve read in that if a major health authority endorses certain studies or reviews, then I trust that their basis for doing so is better than the contradictory information I might glean from a blog post or a Facebook page. I have some training in research, from a writer’s perspective-but it’s really not the same as the research that people in scientific fields do.

Diet- Do Your Research?

It’s not only something that comes up in parenting; there’s a lot of discussion about diet, for a further example, with conflicting beliefs everywhere. I saw a discussion where one woman said her cardiologist, who is highly regarded in his field, advised her against too much coconut oil due to her cholesterol issues. Within minutes, responses included lamenting how wrong this cardiologist was, how uninformed, how backwards. Someone shared a link to this study, which they implied proved the cardiologist was wrong, with a comment that it had taken them 30 seconds to locate it. This study, however, was done on rabbits and not humans. It’s quite difficult to read, in my opinion, especially for a layperson like myself. I asked a doctor friend to have a look at it and she pointed out that this study was done in 1991, which makes it 15 years old. She didn’t think this study alone was enough to proclaim a cardiologist incorrect in his advice to his patient; this is from a qualified medical doctor with no stake in the situation at all.

Medical- Do Your Research?

In some circles, listening to your doctor’s advice is met with rolled eyes and sighs. Apparently, you shouldn’t listen to your doctor; you must “Do your research!” first. I’m not saying doctors are infallible; they are human, they make mistakes and can give poor advice sometimes. I know that when I had my last baby and was having initial trouble with breastfeeding, I felt that my doctor was dismissive and incorrect when she implied that there was no benefit to breastfeeding beyond the initial weeks. However, I had also read enough to know that her attitude was not in line with the position of the World Health Organisation or the Australian Health Department breastfeeding guidelines. My reading in this area made me confident in seeking suitable advice from my local lactation consultant and from experienced, educated peers. Does this mean I should write off the medical profession as a whole? I don’t think so.

It is a good idea to read up on things that concern you. In saying that, though, you should also keep an open mind. You might have read outdated information. You might have gleaned information from a website that looks reputable and seems quite legitimate but really isn’t. There are also plenty of examples where someone has written an article based on research that they have wildly misinterpreted. If you aren’t sold on what your doctor is telling you, ask yourself why that might be. Is it because you strongly believe they may be wrong, or because it doesn’t match your opinion? A good doctor should, I believe, address your concerns and be open to discussing with you what you’ve read. Talk to your doctor before deciding they are wrong and if warranted, look into seeing a specialist.

Are You Actually Equipped To Do Your Research?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any kind of science degree. Even if I did, I don’t have access to a lab. I don’t have a team of people to assist me. I don’t know how to best conduct a study. I don’t know how to submit my research for peer review. When it comes to the practicalities of scientific research, I am not equipped to perform it.  I don’t think that many people actually are equipped to do their own research.


So when someone implores you to do your own research, they are often actually asking for the impossible. There’s a big difference between doing some reading on a subject and combining this with actual research. If you’re someone that thinks reading a few websites is equivalent to research, there is a good chance they don’t know or understand what scientific research really involves. Reading blogs, health/medical/alternative/conspiracy websites, social media posts or even books does not equate to thorough research. Reading on it’s own isn’t the same as research- it’s just one facet of what is required. Unfortunately, this is what many people are are talking about when they say they have done their research. Taking the advice of your doctor is looked at with derision. Trusting medical professionals with years of experience and study under their belts will often earn be met with sighs and criticism. This isn’t okay. This breeds a climate of fear and conspiracy. You don’t have to take everything at face value. You can ask questions. You can read and learn. But assuming you are right, based on something you’ve read, and that the scientific consensus is therefore wrong, is dangerous ground indeed.

I Don’t Say I’ve “Done My Research” Anymore.

If my conclusions are significantly different to those reached by major health and science authorities, how can I rationalise that? This is not to say such authorities are absolute; they’re not. However, they are generally making recommendations based on the best available evidence. Recommendations change as we learn more. This means that studies are assessed for quality, compared to other findings and thoroughly examined by people who are qualified to do so. We need to recognise that this level of research is, more often than not, above and beyond our individual capabilities. I’m sure I’ve probably said that I’ve researched something at some point. But I’ve come to realise that I really can’t, and shouldn’t, make that claim when it comes to medical and health issues. I’m not a scientist or a doctor. When it comes to my health or the health of my family, I will say that I have read up, sometimes extensively, on certain things. But I know it’s not the same as having actually performed research. Saying I’ve “done my research” gives me an implied authority that I don’t really have any claim to.

You might think this all comes down to semantics and I guess it does, to a point. I just can’t help but think that by using the term “research” to mean “I googled it”, we are devaluing, if not actively ignoring, what real medical and scientific research actually involves. In reality, we all benefit from the thousands of hours of research done on our behalf. Whether it has lead to a vaccine to protect us, a medication to treat us or any other innovation to make our lives better, safer, longer and/or healthier, it is no small thing!

#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.

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