The next facet of preparing to launch our study is the issue of sample size & composition. We need a suitable sample size (the number of test subjects or participants) and composition (the demographics and/or physical attributes or “profile”) of the subjects involved in the test to represent a cross section of the population with which you hope to apply these results.
In academia, the university environment and access to talent can often give them pro or elite athletes to work with as subjects of the study. When this is the case, I must confess to wondering if their results and conclusions are more a factor of “good genetics” or of the principles being studied. In other words, would the same sort of results be rendered, perhaps differing in only the degree or amount of the effect, if it had been conducted with subjects that would fall under the average individual type profile.
While having 10 subjects is one of those nice round numbers that would also help us achieve a cross section within the “normal people” population, we don”™t always have the luxury of that many participants, and so rather than linger in the “no-mans land” of inaction, you take what you can get in order to get the study off the ground. However, that being said, the results will also have to then be taken with a grain of salt. Those scrutinizing the end results or findings will examine not only the assumptions and methodologies the study has employed, but the composition and size of the subject group conducting the trials.
Impact on Interpretation
We not only must be cognizant of the subject”™s profile, but also how homogeneous that sample group is within itself. We don”™t want to miss this detail since we can expect our conclusions ultimately rendered to be interpreted in the light of who completed our trials. This is the test bed of our study.
Sometimes the emphasis on this fact is disproportionate to its impact on the overall results, and can be offered up to explain away unexpected results. In other instances, this impact is clearer and even profound, and consequently may be the most salient insight gained as a result of the research. When either of these positions are offered as qualifying factors of interpretation, I believe the research group is then compelled to repeat the research with a distinctly different, yet also homogenous group; at least once or even twice. These repeated trials should serve to validate or invalidate the relative impact of the subject”™s profile and/or sample size on the final results.
In some cases, this repeating and more detailed analysis of the subject group can lead to more accuracy overall to the concepts and principles involved in the research; which is of course one of the best outcomes any researcher can hope for anyway. Better yet, when this repeating of the research is done by a completely different research group, say at another university, the full picture and analysis of the results can become more and more robust.
Getting back to our own “backyard research” (hey, I like that phrase — what think ye — maybe this is the less pretentious way of saying “Evidence Based Cycling”). But yet again I digress…
In our situation today, we will endeavor to use real, ordinary people in our study, and thus we should ultimately be able to establish real, ordinary comparisons and conclusions. While we can debate the word “ordinary” for more time and paper than the subject is worth, we can also just trust our good judgment to recruit and include those subjects whom seem to make up what most people would consider the “general population”.
Bottom line though at this point is that we must recruit individuals willing to be included in the study, and perform the trials we ask them to do, in the frequency and specificity as we dictate. This is no small task, so we better get busy. Once I wrangle enough participants, I”™ll return with the next steps to take.
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