At the School of Dentistry’s annual Research Day on Tuesday, Kristie Cheng was announced as the winner of the Summer Research Fellowship (SURF) Student Clinician Competition. Cheng, a second-year dental student, presented a study of factors affecting citation rates in oral and maxillofacial surgery.
Runners-up in the SURF competition were second-year dental students Taylor Wilkins and Mark Van Duker. Wilkins presented a study of genotype-dependent T2R38 regulation of epigenetic markers and antimicrobial peptides, while Van Duker studied the effect of silver diamine fluoride and potassium iodide on bonding to caries-affected dentin.
Dr. Jevin West of the UW School of Information delivered the Research Day keynote talk, titled “Sorting Evidence from BS in the Age of Evidence-Based Dentistry,” at the start of the day’s activities in the UW’s South Campus Center.
He told students that even when they don’t know how an algorithm or a statistical test works, they can spot research flaws by looking carefully at what goes in and what comes out of a study.
He focused closely on the issue of causality and warned of the dangers of confusing a simple common cause with cause and effect. He also noted that correlations may not be prescriptive in research, but they turn out that way as a research proceeds from an original paper to the news and public awareness. As an example, he cited findings that moderate wine consumption may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, which somehow became a popular prescription to drink a glass with dinner to reduce the chance of heart disease.
He also discussed “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” the logical fallacy stating that since one event follows another, the second event must have been caused by the first. This fallacy is especially prevalent in medicine, he said, citing the contention that vaccines caused autism – a widely discredited assertion that nevertheless has caused thousands of preventable deaths.
He cautioned students to guard against this fallacy and said that the best way to determine true causality was through manipulative experimentation – changing variables and studying carefully how they affect outcomes. A key question, he said, would be to ask whether causality was direct or mediated by a common cause.
He also called on students to support efforts to spread public awareness. “Science works, but given the amount pseudoscience out there, we need to engage with the public,” he said.
Other presentations were given by Dr. Greg Huang, Chair of the Department of Orthodontics; Dr. Brian Leroux of the Departments of Oral Health Sciences and Biostatistics; and Dr. Philippe Hujoel of the Department of Oral Health Sciences.
After the morning’s talks, student research poster presentations followed in the UW’s Health Sciences Center lobby.