Dynamism of the Human Body

Too Many Positive Studies in Kinesiology?

The New York Times has a wellness column called Phys Ed. Weekly it brings us factoids from mostly positive studies in kinesiology. “Staying physically active may protect the aging brain,” says one. “300 minutes a week of moderate exercise may help ward off cancer,” says another. Gretchen Reynolds feeds us quite a stream of good news about the benefits physical activity. She offers warnings about bad things that happen to people who do too little of it. Sometimes she also tells us pitfalls of doing it wrong.

Sometimes she points us to papers that are truly fascinating. Other times, we roll our eyes.

So primed with a bit of skepticism, we find ourselves embracing a recent paper by Rosie Twomey and colleagues. They took a hard look at scientific publications in kinesiology and found an “unacceptably high” rate of positive studies. They concluded:

“Most published manuscripts demonstrated subpar reporting practices.”

A Culture of Open, Reproducible Science

Twomey et al are not the only folks in kinesiology raising this issue. Fionn Büttner and colleagues wrote recently that “the proportion of supported hypotheses is implausibly high” in sport and exercise medicine. To be sure, the enthusiasm for physical activity is understandable. But when it bleeds into scientific inquiry, it hurts credibility. And thus, Büttner et al see a need for change. For the sake of credibility, kinesiology should embrace a culture of open, reproducible science, they say.

The importance of scientific credibility is obvious because in the midst of a pandemic, we see it challenged. The cost of public doubts are great. But the present challenges are nothing new. In fact, in a recent Innovators podcast, David Allison reminds us that young Benjamin Franklin was an early anti-vaxxer. Allison described debates about smallpox inoculation between Franklin and Cotton Mather:

“They were no more polite and friendly than our most vitriolic combatants are today.”

Later, Franklin became an advocate for vaccination.

Protecting the Credibility of Science

Allison also points out that the credibility of science itself remains relatively high. The same can hardly be said for policy makers and the media. What the public sometimes questions are specific findings and recommendations that emerge from science. This challenge will always be with us.

So if we believe that exercise science is important, then it behooves scientists in kinesiology to protect its credibility. Embracing a culture of open, reproducible research is an important way to do this.

Click here for the Twomey paper and here for the Büttner paper. For Allison’s podcast, click here.

Dynamism of the Human Body, painting by Umberto Boccioni / WikiArt

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December 23, 2021