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Evaluating Quantitative Public Health Research

Course Number
5100 (Social and Behavioural Health Science)
Course Instructor(s)
Elizabeth F. Sanders

Course Description

Evidence-based decision making is central to both public health policy and practice, and scientific evidence relevant to public health spans a wide array of disciplines. Public health scientists, policymakers and practitioners are thus often required to assess research outside their areas of expertise. The contexts in which these assessments are necessary may vary: in interdisciplinary collaborations, in the course of policymaking, and in public health practice. This course serves as an introduction to the evaluation of quantitative public health research for non-specialists. It assumes limited prior knowledge of quantitative health research methodologies.

The course focuses on critical appraisal of epidemiological research. Students will learn how to systematically and critically examine epidemiological research design, conduct and analysis, and to judge the validity and relevance of research findings. We will work through a range of examples from the current literature in class, and students will also be afforded the opportunity to critically appraise an article/s of their choosing, relevant to their area of interest. We will also consider current internal criticisms of quantitative health research. Amidst mounting concern about poor reliability and non-reproducibility of quantitative research findings, many biomedical scientists, research funders and publishers have turned critical attention to quantitative research practices. We will examine some of their core concerns from both epistemic and social perspectives.

Course Objectives

At the end of the course, students should:

  • have acquired relevant core concepts and basic terminology used in epidemiology
  • be able to read, understand and assess epidemiological reports in the literature
  • appreciate the relevance of the context of decision making when evaluating quantitative public health research findings
  • have insight into some of the current concerns about the reliability of quantitative biomedical research
  • appreciate some of the ways social sciences might contribute to these debates

Methods of Assessment

Participation, including two formal “opening responses” 20%
Short written assignment 15%
Critical appraisal of one quantitative research paper 15%
Final Paper: define a research question and evaluate the validity and applicability of 3 quantitative research papers relevant to the topic 50%