All “evidence” isn’t created equal.
Levels of scientific evidence : to help us understand scientific evidence, Dr. Katrine Wallace — an epidemiologist, educator and science literacy influencer — produced a trio of resources focused on differentiating between different levels of scientific evidence. Click on HERE and explore this amazing resource! (The infographic is free to download)
Dr. Wlallace explains that there are eight levels of scientific evidence and in order from weakest to strongest evidence:
- Anecdotes: Stories about personal experiences and perceptions are notoriously unreliable and should not be considered scientific evidence.
- Expert opinions: Experts often base opinions on evidence, but they also sometimes offer informed perspectives on issues about which the data isn’t yet clear. Remember: experts aren’t immune to bias.
- Case reports / case series: These are studies on one person (case report) or a group of people (series) with similar clinical characteristics. These are common with new diseases or health conditions and are used as a first step to gather more information.
- Cross-sectional studies: Observational studies in this category capture the health of a particular group of people at a single point in time. These provide useful snapshots, but they can’t show what caused a disease or ailment.
- Case-control study: These observational studies compare groups of people with a specific condition with other groups of people who do not have that condition. It’s important to remember, however, that some correlations in these groups could be the result of coincidence.
- Cohort study: These large, long-term observational studies look at what causes diseases in different groups (cohorts) by following a group that shares a specific factor or exposure to a risk factor over time to see if they develop a mutual ailment.
- Randomized trial: This is the gold standard for testing health claims. Participants are randomly divided into control groups (no treatment) and test groups (receive a given treatment) to minimize the influence of bias.
- Meta-analysis and systematic review: These are not studies themselves, but rather analyses and reviews of a group of studies, filtered for quality and rigor. In other words, these reviews collect studies about a subject or question, then narrow that group down to the strongest studies and analyze or review their collective findings.
So when you encounter a claim about what the scientific evidence shows, grab Dr. Kat’s levels of evidence infographic to evaluate it!