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October 1993, Volume 43, Issue 10

Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Research

Practical Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Research

Asma Fozia Qureshi  ( Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi. )
Melvyn A. Lobo  ( Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga than University, Karachi. )

What is research? Testing hypotheses? Collecting data? Generating new knowledge? Does it mean elaborate and expensive facilities or a description of esoteric findings in impenetrable jargon?!
The Oxford Dictionary defines research as “careful search or enquiry after or for or into; endeavour to discover new or collate old facts, etc. by scientific study of a subject, course of critical investigation.” Others have defined research as systematic, controlled and critical investigation (or testing) of ideas generated by intuition; or the systematic search for new knowledge. This series of articles proposes to introduce the fundamental prin­ciples of research and create an appreciation of the underlying concepts. The aim is to help the reader become a more critical consumer of research/journal articles that may appear to be intimidating and to nurture a spirit of enquiry. It should be possible to learn what an article is about, to appreciate the nature of the findings, to assess whether the study was conducted appropriately and why it is considered important. Research is an integral part of professional develop­ment in medicine and can be a lot of fun. What is epidemiology? Originally defined as the study of epidemics, epidemiology now has a broader concept that includes the “3 D’s: the Distribution, Determinants and Dynamics of disease in human popula­tions. The main aim is to identify causal association but also explains occurrence of and the natural history of diseases with the ultimate objective of providing guidance in the administration of health services.
What is biostatistics? “Bios” in Greek is “life” while “statos” is Latin for ‘facts of state or community”. Here numbers are used to tell a story so that numerical data are presented in a fashion by which their meaning can be better judged.
The Scientific Method consists of several steps:

- Statement of the problem
- Formulation of hypothesis
- Testing
- Interpretation and presentation
- Utilization
Statement of the problem: What is bothering you, what is the question, what needs to be studied or verified? What is already known about the problem (literature review)?
Formulation of hypothesis: Rationale, aims, objec­tives -- i.e., what is the research question and why? What will the study contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the problem? Why do we want to carry out research? What do we hope to achieve?

Testing: Research methodology/study design and analysis -- what data do we need to answer our questions? How are we going to collect this information? How will the data be processed and analysed?
Interpretation and presentation: Based on the research evidence is the hypothesis accepted, rejected, modified? Are the conclusions valid? How are the results to be presented (report, paper, verbal presentation, etc.)?
Utilization: Application of results -- feedback to the original problem, guidance for informed decision making.
What else is needed? A work plan, timetable (who will do what and when), resources and budget required.

Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association has agreed to receive and publish manuscripts in accordance with the principles of the following committees: