File this under, “How to read this blog” and “How to prepare to critique someone’s work.”
Aaron and I reference a lot of academic papers because we think they’re good sources of the truth, among the best we have. But we can’t describe the details of every paper in a post. You know what describes the paper? The paper! That’s why we link to it. That we do so implies we’ve read it and think it’s sound. Maybe it isn’t. We’re fallible. So are the paper authors. But you can’t tell that from the post. You’ve got to look at the paper.
So, I might write, “So-and-so found that long toenails increase risk of poor vision outcomes [link].” Some readers are tempted to think, and a few even write in comments, words to the effect of, “Couldn’t other things like age explain poor vision and poor toenail care?” Or, “Couldn’t poor vision be the cause of long toenails, and not vice versa as you claim?” Of course! It’s so obvious I’ll bet the authors thought of that. If not, I’ll bet the reviewers of the paper did and made the authors fix their work.
Did you read the paper? That’s why I linked to it. Please follow the link and look at the paper before attacking the one or two sentence summary we can fit into a post. I know some papers are gated. Often you can use Google Scholar to find an ungated version. Your local library can help. For the intensely curious, you can fork over a few bucks and buy the paper.
Or you can trust me and Aaron, or the paper reviewers or authors. Learning a bit about the authors (Google them) might help you trust them. They may have other papers that are ungated. Check them out to see if they use methods you approve of. Or, they may be affiliated with institutions you trust. That’s not to say big names at prestigious institutions can’t make errors. They can! But if you’re looking for a way to poke holes in others’ work, you might first assess whether it is likely you’ll succeed by judging their credentials.
Aaron and I don’t mind being called out on things we get wrong. That’s good. That’s how we learn. But if you want to play that game, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and do some work, do some reading, as we do.