Observational vs. Experimental Covid research – what’s the difference?

I prefer experimental research, where you collect data and analyze it. I was trained in science, starting high school. Observational vs. Experimental Covid research – what’s the difference?

Observational research

This type of research uses several different types of non-experimental studies where behavior is systematically observed and recorded. The goal of observational research is to describe a variable or set of variables. Many Covid research studies are observational.  Over 200,000 people have died, and we need analysis and information as fast as we can get it. There is not enough time to set up experimental research. Observational research can help until there is time for experimental research.

The CDC research study, on 15 minutes of intermittent exposure was observational. The study had only one person. A prison guard interacted with infected prisoners over a specified period of time.

My blog post A home is not always safe from Covid-19 had a study where infected persons and their household members were tested over a period of time. There was significant virus transmission among household members.

Another widely quoted example of observational research on airborne transmission was a crowded choir practice in Seattle in a small room with no masks or social distancing. Other indoor choir practices were not analyzed, such as the effect of face masks and physical distancing.

Experimental research

This research is a scientific approach. One or more independent variables are manipulated and applied to one or more dependent variables to measure their effect on the latter.

For Covid, the vaccine trials are experimental: one group gets the vaccine, the other receives a placebo (saline solution). The research is double-blind: no one knows which one they receive. Observational vs. Experimental Covid research – what’s the difference?

Experimental vs. observational research

An observational study is where watch for what is happening, and you record what you see.  An experimental study is where you have a control group (does not get the vaccine) and a test group (gets vaccine).

An experiment can prove that a particular vaccine does or does not work. An observational study cannot.

Two articles on observational vs. experimental research

They are both technical. I was unable to find anything that had an easier to understand discussion of the issues.

Observational Versus Experimental Studies: What’s the Evidence for a Hierarchy?

The contribution of the observational research design to COVID-19 research

My advice

Always check data and research you are reading about or hearing on the news. Whenever you read about a study or research, see if it is observational or experimental.

Is it peer-reviewed? What is the difference?

Please leave a comment. We want to know what you think!!