Bias can be a problem even with the best researchers. Many try for years to prove a hypothesis or solve a research question while only focusing on the positive results. By not looking at all the evidence, they may be missing a better solution to the problem.
To ensure what I am teaching and doing in my own practice reflects the best and most current evidence, I spend time reading the latest dental research. I believe it is one of the most important things clinicians can do to ensure the care they provide meets current standards and patient expectations. This article is the first in a three-part series about the importance of dental research to your practice.
By integrating the best research and clinical expertise into your current techniques and procedures, your practice provides the best care to your patients and their unique circumstances while you also grow as a clinician in your levels of expertise.
Unfortunately, many of us were never taught how to correctly conduct dental research to ensure the techniques and materials we are using have been thoroughly studied and proven to be safe and effective. With all the information available online and in professional and open access journals, how do you know what is reliable information and what is heavily biased or the result of a poorly designed and executed study?
What is Confirmation Bias?
The propensity to seek out information that supports what you already believe is true, is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by actively seeking out or interpreting any form of information in a way that is consistent with your existing beliefs. This means that when you look for information about something, you are looking through the lens of your preconceptions about the subject, and you will keep on searching out information until you find what fits with what you already think or believe. The reality is you can find research to support any treatment or material belief you currently hold.
Although it is a biased method of processing information, this approach to decision-making is largely unintentional. Bias related to our treatment beliefs is often passed on to us from teachers, mentors, and friends. While these biases may not be inherently detrimental, they can prevent you from achieving your full potential or the best outcome for your patients.
Confirmation bias affects not only how people gather information but influences how they interpret and recall the information they find. Many people are susceptible to confirmation bias because it is a quick and efficient way for them to process information, especially in today's world where there are so many diverse sources of information available.
Five Tips to Reduce Confirmation Bias
Since we will never eliminate our inherent biases when it comes to a particular dental philosophy, preparation technique, or material use, what can you do to gather the “best” information possible no matter your current beliefs?
1. Prove Yourself Wrong
Search out information that is the opposite of what you currently believe is right. In other words, try and prove yourself wrong. Reading articles that provide another viewpoint can help you to consider how you could change what you are currently doing to achieve a better or more predictable outcome.
2. Keep An Open Mind
Question your own beliefs and do not depend entirely on what others tell you. Do not quickly dismiss something without stopping and taking the time to think about what would happen if you changed the way you do something. Keep an open mind to the possibilities of the latest information.
3. Pull Data from Multiple Sources
Do not rely on just one source of information to form your opinions. Academy journals may primarily reflect the beliefs of that group. Actively seek out information or subscribe to sources that support innovative ideas. Branch out in your search to include sites and journals reflecting differing opinions. Try not to ignore information which is inconsistent to your specific beliefs on a topic.
4. Challenge Yourself
Be open to new sources of information. Check out new peer reviewed journals or academic websites. Look at the information on organization websites that contradicts what you currently believe is true. There is also interesting “gray” literature out there that never finds its way into a professional journal. Gray literature includes materials and research that does not come from traditional dental research or academic organizations, or from normal publishing or distribution channels. In part two of this dental research series, I will discuss gray literature in more detail.
5. Question Everything
Do not hesitate to question everything. By asking questions and challenging others (without becoming defensive or angry), you open the window to expanding your knowledge base. Questions such as “why do you believe that” or “what led you to believe ____ is correct in this situation,” will help stimulate discussion and debate. When you debate a topic, you have an opportunity to gain experience about others' beliefs and why they have them.
The Importance of Dental Research in Your Practice
In this series of articles on dental research, I will provide some food for thought and improve your ability to not only expand your professional horizons and grow your practice, but encourage you to question other beliefs you may hold as true. The next article will share strategies for finding the quality information for which you are searching.
Robert Winter, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.