• Journal Article

Six Persistent Research Misconceptions


Rothman, K. (2014). Six Persistent Research Misconceptions. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 29(7), 1060-1064. DOI: 10.1007/s11606-013-2755-z


Scientific knowledge changes rapidly, but the concepts and methods of the conduct of research change more slowly. To stimulate discussion of outmoded thinking regarding the conduct of research, I list six misconceptions about research that persist long after their flaws have become apparent. The misconceptions are: 1) There is a hierarchy of study designs; randomized trials provide the greatest validity, followed by cohort studies, with case-control studies being least reliable. 2) An essential element for valid generalization is that the study subjects constitute a representative sample of a target population. 3) If a term that denotes the product of two factors in a regression model is not statistically significant, then there is no biologic interaction between those factors. 4) When categorizing a continuous variable, a reasonable scheme for choosing category cut-points is to use percentile-defined boundaries, such as quartiles or quintiles of the distribution. 5) One should always report P values or confidence intervals that have been adjusted for multiple comparisons. 6) Significance testing is useful and important for the interpretation of data. These misconceptions have been perpetuated in journals, classrooms and textbooks. They persist because they represent intellectual shortcuts that avoid more thoughtful approaches to research problems. I hope that calling attention to these misconceptions will spark the debates needed to shelve these outmoded ideas for good