Courtesy of Combate Americas

Like a scene out of an old western movie, Tito Ortiz and Alberto “El Patron” Rodriguez will square off to prove who has the fastest hands at the Texas-Mexico border when the cage doors close this Saturday night at Combate Americas 51. This weekend’s battle—the organization’s first time being aired on pay-per-view—is neither fighter’s first rodeo, but both men look to leave one last mark on mixed martial arts before riding off into the sunset.

Ortiz, 44, has been blazing his own comeback trail in recent years and may not be so quick to call it quits, win or lose. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” returned in style last year with Golden Boy Promotions, knocking out fellow former UFC champ Chuck Liddell in the rubber match of their trilogy. But rather than leaving on a winning note, Ortiz stuck around, feeling he still has more to offer the sport. 

“I slept Chuck in the first round and I had an 18-week camp that went really, really well,” Ortiz says. “After the fight was over, I felt like I still had more to give.”

Another motivational boost? Ortiz’s pal Randy Couture, who at age 43 returned from retirement to win the UFC heavyweight title in 2007. Ortiz gave the UFC legend a call to discuss his decision back in the day.

“He was like, ‘Dude, I just felt like I wasn’t done, I had a lot more in the tank.’ That’s all I needed to hear,” says Ortiz. “I was like, alright, cool, this is something I want to do. I sat my family down and told my boys, ‘Guys, dad wants to fight,’ and they had a big smile on their faces and were like, ‘Dad, you can do it!’ So I’ve been at it since.”

Ortiz admits he isn’t focused on going on another championship run like Couture, although he calls a potential Combate Americas matchup with former UFC champ Cain Velasquez “interesting.” But for at least this weekend, he’s just wants to entertain fans whenever he enters the cage.



“Right now, it’s strictly about the entertainment value of it,” says Ortiz. “People want to see fun fights and be entertained. I think this fight will do this.”

For “El Patron,” the former WWE star returns to MMA, with some obvious rust after nearly a decade removed. During his days with famed organizations like Japan’s Pride back during MMA’s wild west era, Rodriguez sported a 9-5 record, and his most notable fight ended in a first-round knockout defeat against MMA legend Mirko Cro Cop. 

Although he has many reasons for stepping into the cage, the main inspiration behind this comeback was to lend a hand (or fist) in helping grow the organization, having worked with Combate Americas for the past six years. Admiring the fighters the organization is developing, “El Patron” wants to use his stardom as a way to get more eyeballs on these talented up-and-comers.

“I decided to do one last fight and give the company its first pay-per-view in history, give an opportunity to these amazing kids, these amazing fighters to be in a pay-per-view card,” “El Patron says. “Of course, if I was going to do it, I had to do it the right way. The right way was fighting someone like Tito, someone that would bring something to the company.”

Ortiz shares a similar sentiment, hoping to use his clout as a renowned former UFC champion in order to give a platform to the next generation of stars fighting on the card.

“I want to give that opportunity for a lot of younger guys that come up to have that same opportunity to be on a big stage,” says Ortiz. “Making that stage big, using my name to do it.” 

Of course, “El Patron” had other reasons for taking up this marquee matchup.

“You know, I’d be lying if I don’t say this, but the money is also good,” “El Patron” jokes. “They did a good offer for me.”

At the end of the day, both fighters also want to cement their legacies, serving as inspirations for their friends, fans and family.

“I want to show my boys what hard work and dedication are about,” says Ortiz.  “My true legacy is my kids.”

“I’m going to be able to leave a legacy for future generations,” Rodriguez says. “Especially for me, a Mexican, a Latino, to be a living example to all those Latinos and Mexicans dreaming of a fantastic life, me at least putting a little bit of me to show them that when you dream it and you work hard for it, dreams do come true. I’m the living proof.”



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Scientific journal articles can be incredibly intimidating to read, even for other scientists. Heck, I have a Ph.D. in a research science and have authored scientific papers, but sometimes I look at a research report outside my field of study and just go, “Nope, can’t decipher this.”

Learning to read them is an important skill, however, in today’s environment of what I call “research sensationalism.” This is where the popular media gets hold of a scientific research report and blows the findings WAY out of proportion, usually while misrepresenting what the researchers actually did and/or found. You know what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, you can’t trust popular media reports about scientific research studies. Too often, it’s shockingly evident that the people writing these reports (a) aren’t trained to evaluate scientific research, and (b) are just parroting whatever newswire release they got that morning with no apparent fact-checking.

Thus, if staying informed is important to you—or you just want to be able to shut down all the fearmongers in your life—you need to learn how to read the original journal articles and form your own judgments. You don’t have to become an expert in every scientific field, nor a statistician, to do so. With a little know-how, you can at least decide if the popular media reports seem accurate and if any given study is worth your time and energy.

Where to Begin

First things first, locate the paper. If it’s behind a paywall, try searching Google Scholar to see if you can find it somewhere else. Sometimes authors upload pdfs to their personal webpages, for example.

Ten years ago, I would have told you to check the journal’s reputation next. Now there are so many different journals with different publishing standards popping up all the time, it’s hard to keep up. More and more researchers are choosing to publish in newer open access journals for various reasons.

Ideally, though, you want to see that the paper was peer reviewed. This means that it at least passed the hurdle of other academics agreeing that it was worth publishing. This is not a guarantee of quality, however, as any academic can tell you. If a paper isn’t peer reviewed, that’s not an automatic dismissal, but it’s worth noting.

Next, decide what type of paper you’re dealing with:

Theoretical papers

  • Authors synthesize what is “known” and offer their own interpretations and suggestions for future directions.
  • Rarely the ones getting popular press.
  • Great if you want to know the new frontiers and topics of debates in a given field.

Original research, aka empirical research

  • Report the findings of one of more studies where the researchers gather data, analyze it, and present their findings.
  • Encompasses a wide variety of methods, including ethnographic and historical data, observational research, and laboratory-based studies.

Meta-analyses & systematic reviews

  • Attempt to pool or summarize the findings of a group of studies on the same topic to understand the big picture.
  • Combining smaller studies increases the number of people studied and the statistical power. It can also “wash out” minor problems in individual studies.
  • Only as good as the studies going into them. If there are too few studies, or existing studies are of poor quality, pooling them does little. Usually these types of reports include a section describing the quality of the data.

Since popular media articles usually focus on empirical research papers, that’s what I’ll focus on today. Meta-analyses and reviews tend to be structured in the same way, so this applies to them as well.

Evaluating Empirical Research

Scientists understand that even the best designed studies will have issues. It’s easy to pick apart and criticize any study, but “issues” don’t make studies unreliable. As a smart reader, part of your job is to learn to recognize the flaws in a study, not to tear it down necessarily, but to put the findings in context.

For example, there is always a trade-off between real-world validity and experimental control. When a study is conducted in a laboratory—whether on humans, mice, or individual cells—the researchers try to control (hold constant) as many variables as possible except the ones in which they are interested. The more they control the environment, the more confident they can be in their findings… and the more artificial the conditions.

That’s not a bad thing. Well-controlled studies, called randomized control trials, are the best method we have of establishing causality. Ideally, though, they’d be interpreted alongside other studies, such as observational studies that detect the same phenomenon out in the world and other experiments that replicate the findings.

NO STUDY IS EVER MEANT TO STAND ON ITS OWN. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that. There is no perfect study. No matter how compelling the results, a single study can never be “conclusive,” nor should it be used to guide policy or even your behavioral choices. Studies are meant to build on one another and to contribute to a larger body of knowledge that as a whole leads us to better understand a phenomenon.

Reading a Scientific Journal Article

Most journal articles follow the same format: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusions. Let’s go through what you should get out of each section, even if you’re not a trained research scientist.

The Abstract succinctly describes the purpose, methods, and main findings of the paper. Sometimes you’ll see advice to skip the abstract. I disagree. The abstract can give you a basic idea of whether the paper is interesting to you and if it is likely to be (in)comprehensible.

DO NOT take the abstract at face value though. Too often the abstract oversimplifies or even blatantly misrepresents the findings. The biggest mistake you can make is reading only the abstract. It is better to skip it altogether than to read it alone.

The Introduction describes the current research question, i.e., the purpose of the study. The authors review past literature and set up why their study is interesting and needed. It’s okay to skim the intro.

While reading the introduction:

  • Make a note of important terms and definitions.
  • Try to summarize in your own words what general question the authors are trying to address. If you can, also identify the specific hypothesis they are testing. For example, the question might be how embarrassment affects people’s behavior in social interactions, and the specific hypothesis might be that people are more likely to insult people online when they feel embarrassed.
  • You might choose to look up other studies cited in the introduction.

The Methods should describe exactly what the researchers did in enough detail that another researcher could replicate it. Methods can be dense, but I think this is the most important section in terms of figuring out how much stock you should be putting in the findings.

While reading the methods, figure out:

  • Who/what were the subjects in this study? Animals, humans, cells?
  • If this is a human study, how were people selected to participate? What are their demographics? How well does the sample represent the general population or the population of interest?
  • What type of study is this?
    • Observational: observing their subjects, usually in the natural environment
    • Questionnaire/survey: asking the subject questions such as opinion surveys, behavioral recall (e.g., how well they slept, what they ate), and standardized questionnaires (e.g., personality tests)
    • Experimental: researchers manipulate one or more variables and measure the effects
  • If this is an experiment, is there a control condition—a no-treatment condition used as a baseline for comparison?
  • How were the variables operationalized and measured? For example, if the study is designed to compare low-carb and high-carb diets, how did the researchers define “low” and “high?” How did they figure out what people were eating?

Some red flags that should give you pause about the reliability of the findings are:

  • Small or unrepresentative sample (although “small” can be relative).
  • Lack of a control condition in experimental designs.
  • Variables operationalized in a way that doesn’t make sense, for example “low-carb” diets that include 150+ grams of carbs per day.
  • Variables measured questionably, as with the Food Frequency Questionnaire.

The Results present the statistical analyses. This is unsurprisingly the most intimidating section for a lot of people. You don’t need to understand statistics to get a sense of the data, however.

While reading the results:

  • Start by looking at any tables and figures. Try to form your own impression of the findings.
  • If you aren’t familiar with statistical tests, do your best to read what they authors say about the data, paying attention to which effects they are highlighting. Refer back to the tables and figures and see if what they’re saying jibes with what you see.
  • Pay attention to the real magnitude of any differences. Just because two groups are statistically different or something changes after an intervention doesn’t make it important. See if you can figure out in concrete terms how much the groups differed, for example. If data are only reported in percentages or relative risk, be wary of drawing firm conclusions.

It can take a fair amount of effort to decipher a results section. Sometimes you have to download supplementary data files to get the raw numbers you’re looking for.

The Discussion or Conclusions summarize what the study was about. The authors offer their interpretation of the data, going into detail about what they think the results actually mean. They should also discuss the limitations of the study.

While reading the discussion:

  • Use your own judgment to decide if you think the authors are accurately characterizing their findings. Do you agree with their interpretation? Are they forthcoming about the limitations of their study?

Red flags:

  • Concrete statements like “proved.” Hypotheses can be supported, not proven.
  • Talking in causal terms when the data is correlational! As I said above, well-controlled experimental designs are the only types of research that can possibly speak to causal effects. Questionnaire, survey, and historical data can tell you when variables are potentially related, but they say nothing about what causes what. Anytime authors use words like “caused,” “led to,” or “_[X]_ increased/decreased _[Y]_” about variables they didn’t manipulate in their study, they are either being sloppy or intentionally misleading.

What about Bias?

Bias is tricky. Even the best intentioned scientists can fall victim to bias at all stages of the research process. You certainly want to know who funded the study and if the researchers have any conflicts of interest. That doesn’t you should flatly dismiss every study that could potentially be biased, but it’s important to note and keep in mind. Journal papers should list conflicts of interest.

Solicit Other Opinions

Once you feel like you have your own opinion about the research, see what other knowledgeable people you trust have to say. I have a handful of people I trust for opinions—Mark, of course, Chris Kresser, and Robb Wolf being a few. Besides fact-checking yourself, this is a good way to learn more about what to look for when reading original research.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s important that you read every single study the popular media grabs hold of. It’s often okay just to go to your trusted experts and see what they say. However, if a report has you really concerned, or your interest is particularly piqued, this is a good skill to have.

Remember my admonition: No study is meant to stand alone. That means don’t put too much stock in any one research paper. It also means don’t dismiss a study because it’s imperfect, narrow in scope, or you can otherwise find flaws. This is how science moves forward—slowly, one (imperfect) study at a time.

That’s it for today. Share your questions and observations below, and thanks for reading.


The post A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Scientific Research appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Could the Keto Diet Help You Fight Off the Flu?

The keto diet has been linked to weight loss, improved cognitive function, and a slew of other benefits. Now, you can add one more to the list—it could help you battle the flu.

A Yale University study published in Science Immunology found the high-fat, low-carb eating strategy activates a subset of cells in the lungs that enhance mucus production that can trap the influenza virus. The mucus keeps the virus from affecting the lungs, according to the study.

Don’t ditch carbs just yet, though. The study was done on mice and a statement from Yale University did not indicate that there’s any plans to replicate the experiment on humans.

Still, the findings did provide scientists with a better understanding of how the body fights the flu. Specifically, they found the body’s gamma delta T cells, which have distinctive receptors used to help assist the immune system, are essential in keeping both mice and humans healthy.

Mice who were bred without gamma delta T cells did not see any benefits from the keto diet, according to the study. Mice with the cells had a higher survival rate when exposed to the flu than those fed a high-carb diet.

“This was a totally unexpected finding,” said the study’s co-senior author Akiko Iwasaki, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.



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Artificial sugar has become public enemy number one. But what if there was a natural, healthier way to sweeten your recipes (and coffee) without cutting out sugar? Try: Coconut sugar.

Coconut sugar is a natural granulated sweetener derived from coconut palm-tree sap. Unlike table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, coconut sugar retains its natural brown color and essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and a type of fiber called inulin, which is reputed to have less of an impact on blood sugar than regular table sugar. 

Swap ground coconut sugar 1:1 with granulated or brown sugar in recipes, sprinkle it on oatmeal, use it in glazes or marinades, or stir a pinch into coffee or tea. 

Coconut sugar also has a deep flavor similar to caramel or molasses (and surprisingly unlike coconut) and is environmentally friendly: Coconut palms need minimal amounts of water and fuel to grow, and they can produce their sap (coconut sugar) for about 20 years, making them a more sustainable crop than sugar cane or sugar beets. 

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“When it comes to building muscle, is protein the only macro that matters?”

It’s true that the amino acids in protein-rich foods are needed to rebuild after vigorous exercise, but protein is not all that matters in the muscle-building game. 

You also need carbohydrates to power you through that workout and replenish energy stores, and fat helps create and maintain the hormones necessary to build muscle. When you eat from a variety of food groups, you’re guaranteed to get a distribution of these three nutrients, so make sure your meal planning is balanced and complete.

Nutrition Myth Bustin’

True or False: Drinking caffeine makes you hungrier.

Answer: Likely false. Most studies report that caffeine has little to no effect on hunger, but the thought process that might lead to that conclusion seems valid: Drinking caffeine in excess or at certain times of the day can disrupt sleep patterns, and irregular sleep habits have been linked to increased appetite and unhealthy cravings. Many people also associate drinking coffee with having a sweet treat or load their coffee with added sugar and syrups, both of which can disrupt blood sugar levels and increase hunger. On the other hand, some research found that coffee reduced hunger and discovered an association between the flavonoids in coffee and reduced levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. And other studies reported that coffee drinkers had an overall lower intake of calories as compared to non-coffee drinkers.

Bottom line: The jury is out, so drink it if you like it, and make sure to eat plenty of healthy foods to quell your hunger.

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