We are evidence-based doulas and educators! We base our training and our practice on the most recent scientific research. So, when a client asks you for the latest research on something she is concerned about…where do you go? Books? A textbook? Journal articles? Popular blogs? Special interest sites? Social media?
There is no type of source that will guarantee accuracy. There is no type of source that is always, inherently false. So, those of us who are non-researcher professionals need a reliable method of evaluating our sources of information. After all, we have a responsibility to give our students and clients the most up-to-date, factual information. And when someone asks you where you got your information, you need to have a good answer!
First, let’s look at various levels of sources. There are a few different ways to categorize sources. Here is a simplified method:
Information straight from the researcher’s mouth. This could be the study itself or a lecture or article written by the researcher about the results of his/her study.
Information that is one step away from the researcher. It is another researcher or scientist’s take on the study. An example would be an editorial article in a journal.
Primary and Secondary Sources are written by researchers and scientists for other researchers and scientists. There is an assumption that you “speak the language”—that you have a knowledge of statistics and of the research methods that were used. This can make it tricky for a lay person to correctly interpret these sources.
These are often described as reference books and other sources you would find in a library: encyclopedias, almanacs, dictionaries, textbooks. However, sources that are directed at professionals in a particular field (sometimes called Trade Literature) could also be included in this category.
Tertiary Sources are written by people or organizations for the sole purpose of educating professionals or the public. They do the interpretation of the studies for us. In our field, this could include information from the CDC, WHO, or Mayo Clinic. It also includes publications from the American Academy of Pediatrics and ACOG. Although, those organizations’ intended audiences are doctors—doctors are not researchers, either! Doctors also rely on trade literature for a lot of their evidence-based information.
Popular Press sources include magazines, popular books (as opposed to textbooks), blog posts, special interest sites, pregnancy apps, social media, etc. This has become the #1 source for the average lay person seeking information. Which is a little disconcerting! These sources need to be carefully scrutinized and evaluated.
In our current internet era, anyone can create a blog, put out some content and call themselves an expert. The loudest voices draw the most attention regardless of their qualifications or accuracy. According to Childbirth Connection’s Listening to Mothers III survey , mothers get the majority of their pregnancy health information from their care providers, their childbirth classes and popular websites. The striking part is that most who were interviewed listed a nearly equal amount of confidence in these three sources. So, how do we determine whether a popular press resource is trustworthy and reliable?
My new, favorite method of evaluating popular press sources is the CRAAP Test . (Mostly, because I thoroughly enjoy saying “Did it pass the CRAAP test?”) It stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose. Now, when a client sends you a blog post they’ve been reading, or a distant family member tags you in every birth-related article that pops up in their Facebook feed, you can use this test to determine whether or not it is a credible and useful source!
Currency: How much is this article worth to me? When was it published? Does that matter? Is the information outdated? Is there a newer source that I should be using? In the birth field, we are generally looking for research that has been done in the last 3-5 years. Also, how does the information in this publication align with the rest of the body of research on this topic? Does it back up data that we already know, or is this something brand new and maybe even out of left field? (If so, we will probably need to wait for more research to be done before applying the findings to our practice.)
Relevance: Does the information apply to my client(s)? Is this an appropriate article to share with my students or to share publicly on social media? This could be as simple as checking the main points to see if they are relevant to your client’s situation. It could also be as detailed as digging in and looking for red flags. Three (3) common red flags I see in my research are: testimonials, FUD, and distraction.
- Does the author use a testimonial as the main form of evidence? A sample pool of one person is not generalizable to the population at large. If you want to continue researching this information, you will need a more reliable source.
- Does the author use Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt (FUD) as a theme? Fear is a widely used psychological tactic used in sales and marketing to persuade people to do what you want them to do. Unfortunately, it is also used in the health field with appalling frequency. It is manipulative at best and destructive at worst. Conspiracy theories and click-bait titles also fit into this category. I would not recommend ever sharing articles that use these tactics with your clients or students.
- Distraction techniques are also used frequently in popular press sources. There are two main ways this is seen in health publications:(1) Using a part to prove a whole. For example: “A new study says that Vitamin C does not cure the common cold. Therefore, all vitamins are a scam and not worth your money.” This is throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.(2) Using something related to prove the main point. For example: “A newborn baby died of anaphylactic shock after receiving a vitamin K shot. [Article describes in detail the dangers of anaphylactic shock.] Therefore, no baby should ever receive a vitamin K shot.” This is an actual article that I read. There were no citations in the article, but a quick google search revealed that this was, indeed, a factual occurrence. It also revealed that this was the only recorded instance of anaphylaxis in a newborn from a vitamin K shot in the U.S. It is indeed a tragic incident and one that we should make all effort to avoid repeating. However, this author used a related issue—the dangers of anaphylactic shock—to prove the original argument: to ban vitamin K for all newborns. Distraction can be overt, or it can be difficult to detect. Often, the author has no idea they are doing it, but it is common in emotionally charged topics.
Authority: Why are they qualified to speak on this subject? Is their degree relevant to the subject? Do they have any experience, education or training in on this topic? If they are evaluating a study, do they understand the research methods involved? A lack of author qualifications doesn’t inherently disqualify them from writing on a particular topic. For example, the bulk of the post may be quoting an expert in the field rather than the author’s own interpretation. However, it is definitely something to take note of. If you cannot find information on the author, consider the reputation of the publication. Are they known for accurate, balanced information? Or do they have a habit of sensationalizing topics or dismissing evidence that doesn’t agree with their narrative?
Accuracy: We need something to give this popular source legitimacy. If a claim is made that is common knowledge, it doesn’t necessarily need to be cited. But if there is a claim that is not common knowledge—something that is new—it needs to be cited to a primary source. Often in our field, new information is cited to a tertiary source that then links to a primary source. There is a lot of breadcrumb following in research! So, look for citations, and check those links! Special interest groups often cite their own previous publications. Bloggers will frequently cite other bloggers or a special interest group that agrees with them. I have even seen these types of blogs link back to other bloggers in one giant echo-chamber-type circle. Somewhere in the chain there needs to be a link to actual scientific evidence that backs up the claims. Otherwise, we need to dismiss this information or start looking elsewhere for the evidence.
Purpose: Why was this article written? Are they selling something associated with this topic? Are they promoting a particular cause that could sway their information? Do they have connections to anyone related to that cause? Or are they educators whose sole purpose is to inform? This can often be found in the author’s bio or on the sidebar of the website. If an article is heavily promoting an essential oil or a supplement as a cure for a particular ailment, and you see in the side bar that they happen to sell that same product, that should give pause to question whether the information given is swayed by a desire to sell the product. It doesn’t mean the information is inherently false, but at the very least, it should be verified by other sources.
Now that you know what to look for, you will begin to grow your own collection of reliable sources where you can turn for information. Here are a few that are widely known as quality resources to get you started.
Research Databases to search for links to studies:
Public Health Organizations:
Reliable Popular Press Sources:
Please list your favorite resources in the comments below or share them on my facebook page: facebook.com/laura.speece.doula!
CLD, CCCE, CAPPA Faculty
In addition to being a Faculty Member, Laura is a CAPPA certified labor doula & childbirth educator. She is also the Essentials Program Director at Vintage Remedies, a school of natural health. These two passions blend together beautifully and allow Laura to offer classes that meet a variety of needs in her community – from preparing for birth to caring for your family’s health naturally. She currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Eric, and their five young children. For nearly a decade, Laura has had the honor of working with families all over the Charlotte area. As Childbirth Educator Faculty, she is thrilled to help equip others to do the same! To learn more, you may visit her website at www.naturalabundance.me.