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Understanding Experiments & Observational Studies

Math 109

Project 3: Experimental Design


We encounter reports of experiments every day in the popular press.  Some of these are well done and some are not.  In this project, you are first charged with finding an article that describes an experiment or an observational study.  Then you must analyze the article based on the knowledge you have gained from Chapters 5 and 6 in your textbook.

What you need to do:

1.  Choose one article that describes an experiment or observational study.  If the article describes more than one study pick one and analyze that one.

2.  Complete the following tasks.  Task 1 can be in list form.  Tasks 2 and 3 should be written in full sentences.

Task 1.  Answer the following questions about the experiment:

a.  Who administered this experiment/observational study?  Identify the researchers and organization (university, pharmaceutical company, etc.)

b.  Who were the subjects?

c.  How were the subjects recruited?

d.  How many subjects participated?

e.  Identify the explanatory variable(s).

f.  If an experiment:  What treatment (or treatments) were administered to the subjects?

    If an observational study:  What were the researchers comparing?

g.  Identify the response variable(s).

h.  Were there any lurking variables?  If so, identify them.

i.  If you are exploring an experiment: identify the control group.

Task 2.  What information does this experiment/observational study provide?  Be specific and cite at least 2 facts you learned from this experiment in your own words.  Include the numbers.  For example: The male doctors given aspirin every other day experienced 100 less heart attacks than those given placebo over the course of the study.

Task 3.  Evaluate the experiment/observational study.  This needs to address the following points.

*What type of design (randomized comparative experiment or matched pairs or block design or something else) was used in this experiment?  Was it double-blind?

*There are 3 principles of experimental design.  How does this study meet or not meet these principles?  Support your response with examples from the article.

*How well do you think the results of this experiment/observational study will generalize out to a population beyond just the subjects?  Are there any obstacles to generalization?

*Do you think refusals, non-adherers, and/or dropouts were a problem in this experiment/obervational study?  Why or why not?

Task 4.  Cite your source using MLA format.

Task 5.  Other expectations:

  • All reports should be typed and double spaced with standard font.
  • Please staple/paperclip/folder your report.  No loose pages!
  • The report should be written in complete sentences using Standard English and correct spelling.
  • Due at the start of class.  If you are afraid you will be late or absent, email me the project and bring a hardcopy in with you.  Late work will not be accepted.

The copy of the article MUST be turned in with the homework.  No article = no grade.

Suggestions for articles:

1.  Go to Blackboard and select one of the posted articles or find one on your own.

2.  New York Times science section.

3.  Science News (a weekly magazine that summarizes recent scientific breakthroughs).

4.  Journals related to your field or interests.

5.  Research a topic of your choosing through MCC's databases.  Please see the instructor or a librarian if you need help.


Subject Guide

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Paula Pini
Great Path, M.S. #15, P.O. Box 1046 Manchester, CT 06045-1046