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SPECIAL TOPICS:   Histograms/Central tendency    Sensitivity/Specificity   Rates   Critical review 

               Evaluation Research   Definitions    Designs  Sample size  Sample methods  Confounding 




Ryerson University, Chang School, Spring/2016

Instructor: Prof:  Tim Sly.

        Tel: 647-350-7528



The process of research in the medical and health fields follows the careful path of scientific enquiry, but with additional responsibility of potentially causing or contributing to harm, injury, damage, disease, or even death should errors be made or left uncontrolled.

In this course we will become familiar with some of the basics concepts of research methods drawn from a wide range of public health sciences. The scope is extensive, from physicians' clinical trials and microbiology, to the biomedical, and biochemical laboratory, and ultimately to the larger scale studies of community medicine and epidemiology.

To the public, "medical research" is often seen as the somewhat sensational process whereby a microbiologist or an epidemiologist tracks down the source of a rare killer disease thereby stopping an epidemic, or suddenly finds a cure for a dreaded disease in a "Eureka!" breakthrough moment.  But the credibility and value of research, both within the medical and health professions, and with the media and public, depends upon painstaking attention to detail in the planning and design stages, flawless selection of subjects, careful implementation and elimination of all sources of bias, and extremely cautious yet accurate interpretation. A single study can take decades to complete, and can be applied as much to 'wellness' as to 'illness'.  The researcher may work in the qualitative domain or the quantitative domain, or both, and seek answers to questions at the cellular level, or at the scale of human populations. S/he may work retrospectively, or attempt to predict future risks and outcomes.

Objectives: At the end of the course, you should be able to:

(i) -  define many common terms used in research methods and epidemiology and describe the central concepts used in these fields;

(ii) - calculate and use the common measures, rates, ratios, and comparisons used in research, analysis, and investigation;

(iii) - describe the types of study design, their weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, and application to medical and health research;

(v) - critically review examples of published research and suggest how they may have been improved

(v) - suggest appropriate courses of action when dealing with important yet contentious aspects of research including informed consent, confounding variables, sample size calculation for power analysis and confidence limits, sample selection, peer review, and dissemination and publication of results

(vi) - become familiar with a basic set of statistical skills that you may once have encountered but that have since become unfamiliar or uncertain; each week we will run through one of these methods in a "refresher" format with lots of hands-on practice. (Previous groups have found this particularly useful.)         

Detailed topic list:

* Overview of research in med & health sciences: Outcome involves wellbeing, health, life, survival

*  Realms of research (quantitative/qualitative), applications, examples, advantages and disadvantages

* Basic research designs (retrospective/prospective, observational/experimental, case-control/cohort, longitudinal/cross-sectional),

             applications, examples, advantages and disadvantages

Review of essential nomenclature, measures, rates, ratios, adjustments, continuous/categorical variables, etc.

* Organizing data using histograms.

* Sensitivity and specificity

* Selecting the probabilistic sample for survey health research .......

* Fundamental sampling principles for most med/health research

* Sample size determination for precision, including calculations, predictions, adjustments and reporting

* Sample size determination for power analysis, including use of nomogram for calculation

* Detecting the many types of bias and confounding!

* Introducing confounding variables 

* Working with Statistics:  (review/refresher sessions weekly) in...

        Descriptive statistics: means, medians, modes, central tendency,

                                               normal distribution, standard deviation, confidence limits,

                                                risk measures: risk ratio, odds ratio, attributable risk

*     Analytical statistics:  hypothesis testing, difference between two means (t), paired and unpaired data

                                               Chi square for contingency tables, Fisher's exact test, bivariate analysis, intro to ANOVA

* Discussion and illustration of "Causation"

* Introduction to quantitative and probabilistic risk analysis

* Project-evaluation research

* Detecting faults and falseness in published research: critical review exercises

* The public and media perspective of medical and health research in Canada

* Communication with the public about health and medical research results 







The course structure:

Twelve, three-hour lecture/demonstration/discussion sessions have been scheduled for Tuesday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30. The final session will be a research presentation (more about that later)

It is strongly suggested that you bring a simple calculator along each week to help solve the statistical examples and the case studies, some of which which involve calculations. We will address several new methods in research each week, and include texts, internet links, graphics, video, and especially case studies. Attendance is strongly advised. 

Texts and Printed material

1.  Each week, a collection of selected readings, notes, examples, and most of the "PowerPoint" material that we have seen in class will be made available to you on the Proteus website.

Further notes, case studies, question-sets - and answers - will be available through the same web site as we go along. This will be updated weekly with relevant links and new case studies (for example from NEJM and ProMed).  Go to:    Scroll down to the CKHS100 course and <Click>.  The first page you see will carry a summary of what we cover each week, together with links to other materials,  information about exams, deadlines, references, problems, and solutions, etc.   


We will have five short progress tests/challenges during the semester, each worth 10 points.  Two or three will will be taken-home and the others completed in class (details and dates at the beginning of the course).  The rest of the mark will  be based on your own design of a research project.  A written presentation is worth 30%, and an 6 minute oral presentation will be scheduled on the last day that is worth 20%.  SEE HERE FOR DETAILS    


Contacting me.   Please contact me at

■  I will try to answer an e-mail request within that same day. On busy weekends, the response may be delayed a little longer.

■  I encourage you to give me suggestions and feedback, and make contributions about recent news and events that might have some bearing on the course material. I will share it will all participants.

SPECIAL NOTE: Because of the nature of the course, we will keep note every week of the latest relevant developments in research methods and epidemiology, mainly through ProMed, and other journals.


For further details about the research protocol, please click here.