Interpreting the results of scientific studies (it’s not black and white)*

Robert Larson, DVM, PhD, DACT, DACVPM (Epidemiology), DACAN

Professor, Production Medicine; Edgar E. and M. Elizabeth Coleman Chair Food Animal Production Medicine; Executive Director, Veterinary Medical Continuing Education; College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University

* Special tutorial-style article

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Critical thinking is a process, and as such is never completed. Critically thinking about a clinical problem involves repeating the steps of gathering information, evaluating that information, reflecting on the information and coming to tentative conclusions. Because no single study can fully address most clinical questions and because every study has limitations either in internal and/or external validity, using scientific studies to enhance clinical decision-making requires combining different pieces of evidence of varying strengths. While gaining competence in each step of the critical thinking process requires education, skill, and experience, probably the most difficult to master is to reflect deeply about what is known and what is unknown and how to tie multiple pieces of information and evidence together.

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