Description, Prediction, and Causation in Sport and Exercise Medicine Research: Resolving the Confusion to Improve Research Quality and Patient Outcomes.
Losciale JM., Bullock GS., Collins GS., Arundale AJH., Hughes T., Arden NK., Whittaker JL.
Researchers often assign a label (such as a risk factor or predictor) to a characteristic that is statistically associated with an outcome (such as future injury). Labeling signifies that the characteristic has an established clinical value. More often than not, these labels are assigned prematurely and haphazardly. The rampant practice conflates research goals, the ultimate clinical value of the findings, and many 'risk factors/predictors' that may not warrant the label. To address these issues and improve injury prevention research, we 1) outline the problem; 2) clarify the key differences between the research goals of description, causation, and prediction/prognosis (along with labeling conventions); 3) differentiate the clinical implications for each label; and 4) frame an appropriate scientific process to follow before applying a label.