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Deciphering the Science in Science News Reports

Breast cancer is not linked to abortion. That’s the science news story of note. This is a very interesting story. It’s another example of what we know about our bodies and hopefully it can help us make better decisions about our health and well-being.
But exactly how is this news discovered? HOW did this research team come to this conclusion? How do we KNOW?
Well, the answer lies in people’s understanding and perception of what science is. It has everything to do with understanding Scientific Processes. But learning about Scientific Processes can’t be achieved in a single sitting, but here’s a start. This news story presents a perfect opportunity to point out three key scientific processes.
a) Science discovery starts with a question.
b) Science experiments are designed to be fair and objective.
c) Many observations must be made to draw a fair conclusion.

a) Science discovery starts with a question.

Science is a human endeavor to gain knowledge about the natural world. Asking questions about important and interesting phenomena is the first step. Scientists don’t sit around postulating statements about the world. In fact, scientists ask more questions than we answer. It seems obvious that this team of researchers had the following questions in mind: Is there link between abortion and breast cancer? How does having an abortion affect a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer? Are women more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer if they had an abortion sometime in their past?

b) Science experiments are designed to be fair and objective

To answer these questions, the research team had to set up an experiment. However, researchers take care in designing an experiment that doesn’t tilt the results in one direction or the other. Science provides a way for people to learn more about the natural world by investigating a question thoroughly and methodologically. Experiments must be able to yield clear and objective answers that answer only the question at hand. Previous studies were biased because they only studied women who were already confirmed to have breast cancer. A fair experiment would involve studying women who were healthy to begin with and then see if breast cancer develops. Another thing to do would be to make sure that the supposed link to breast cancer isn’t just about an early-ending pregnancy. So the researchers also included women whose pregnancies ended involuntarily due to miscarriage.

c) Many observations must be made to draw a fair conclusion

In research, sample size matters. This study tracked over 100,000 women for 10 years. Having a large sample size demonstrates that this team expended a lot of effort to really searching for the relationship between abortion/miscarriage and breast cancer. If the studied was based only on 10 women, this would signal to me that the researchers didn’t really thoroughly and fully examine the question. By having a larger number of subjects, it demonstrates that researchers spent a lot of time and energy searching for the relationship between abortion/miscarriage and breast cancer. At study based on a larger sample size has results that are more trustworthy than the results of a study based on a smaller sample size.




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