January 29, 2018

Philosophiae naturalis

Studying Studies: Part IV – randomization and confounding

Randomization helps us in our quest to not fool ourselves. Confounding? Not so much.

by Peter Attia

Read Time 10 minutes

Randomization: the major strength (and limitation) of studies
We left off in Part III discussing the motivation for observational studies and the types of studies employed in observational epidemiology (i.e., retrospective and prospective cohort studies), and some of the major limitations of those types of studies. As we mentioned, observational studies are prone to bias and confounding. A confounder can create a spurious association between an exposure and outcome being observed in an observational study. We introduced this “confounding bias” in Part III of Studying Studies.

Randomization, a method based on chance alone by which study participants are assigned to a treatment group, is a key component in distinguishing cause and effect, and eliminating confounding. By randomly assigning subjects to an intervention or control group, investigators can measure the effect of the intervention without the subjects self-selecting their lot in the experiment, as happens in observational st...

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