The mission of The Methodology Center is to advance public health by improving experimental design and data analysis in the social, behavioral, and health sciences. As a designated National Institute on Drug Abuse Center of Excellence, we serve as a national resource in the development and dissemination of innovative research methods. Although our work is broadly applicable in the behavioral sciences, we specialize in methods for research on behavioral approaches to the prevention and treatment of health problems, with emphasis on alcohol abuse, tobacco use, other drug abuse, and HIV.
We draw upon and integrate methodological perspectives from a variety of disciplines, including statistics, engineering, psychology, and human development, to enable new categories of scientific research questions to be addressed. We enhance the quality of prevention and treatment research worldwide by providing behavioral scientists with innovative methods. By training and mentoring new methodologists, we create a foundation for continued innovation and excellence in prevention and treatment science.
Solving Public Health Problems Using Complex Data
New technologies and approaches have enabled the collection of important data that have great potential for increasing scientific understanding of drug use, risky sex, and other dangerous behavior. For example, smartphones and sensors are being used to obtain frequent (e.g., several times/day) real-time measures of an individual’s behavior, cognitions, mood, and environment. Longitudinal studies have collected behavioral data on their participants across much of the life course, in some cases including multiple generations of participants. Very large databases on drug use, HIV risk behavior, mental health, and a wealth of related variables have been amassed and continue to be updated. Behavioral studies increasingly are collecting genetic data, which produce many thousands of variables that potentially can be linked with behavioral phenotypes.
These new technologies and approaches are producing complex data sets that are rich with information that could be used to create a new generation of interventions for drug abuse and HIV prevention and services. However, statistical analysis methods, the keys investigators use to open the door to the scientific knowledge contained in behavioral data, have not kept up with the complexity of modern data sets and the sophistication of the questions posed by today’s behavioral researchers. Moving forward, the Methodology Center is uniquely positioned to develop and disseminate innovative statistical methods that are essential to unlock the knowledge contained in complex behavioral data and apply it in the fight against drug abuse and HIV.