Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Critical thinking

I think that most of us are savvy enough to realise that we shouldn't take stories in the media at face value, but it occasionally strikes me that not enough people critically evaluate the things that they read. In the running world there are many areas where people hold quite fervent views on what is the "best" way to do something; be it relating to diet (e.g. high carb vs. high fat), running style (e.g. forefoot vs. heel striking), shoe choice (barefoot, minimalist, Hokas, et al.), training methods (speed work or not for ultras?), training aids (does compression gear work?), etc. But one of the big problems that I see cropping up time and again, particularly with social media like Facebook and Twitter, are cases of what is termed confirmation bias - the tendency for people to take more notice of evidence that supports a view that they already hold. How often have you seen an advocate of barefoot running Tweet about the latest paper showing that barefoot running is more efficient? But how often do they Tweet about the latest research showing that no difference was found, or even that heel striking was shown to be preferable?

Let me just be clear; I am in no way commenting on the views themselves. I have my own opinions on all of these facets of running that have been borne out of experience (which is limited in terms of time, but extensive in other ways), as well as reading the limited scientific literature that exists. But I in no way claim that these opinions are correct. If I see compelling evidence that convinces me otherwise, I try things out, use what works for me, and change my opinions (as everybody should). To be honest, my view on a lot of these questions in sports science is that there is no right answer. You do what works for you. 

No; what I am commenting on in this post is the use of dodgy evidence to support these views.