Wow. Yeah. Some of the earlier comments about how to design scientific studies were a bit... unorthodox.
There is no way to do this study in a true double-blind fashion, unless you could hypnotize people into thinking they used poles when they didn't. Also, the crack about how any study that isn't a twin study done in a laboratory is invalid displays a fundamental misunderstanding about the statistics involved. (Sorry to sound peremptory, but it does.) That's why we test populations, not individuals. With a large enough N the variables fall out. Of course you CAN argue that 37 isn't a big enough N. I'd have to see the real study to know. It sort of depends upon just how big the difference in results is between the two groups. Generally, you need a larger N when testing for smaller differences whereas a small N will demonstrate greater differences adequately.
Anyway, I think it'll be an interesting paper, if I can get my hands on a copy. And I probably can- I can get it through my hospital library, though it may take me a week or so.
The hiking community in general seems to have strong opinions on this subject, bordering on theology. I don't understand why. If you don't want to use poles... don't. Why try to convince everyone else that they don't work? Some perverse need to justify that you're "doing it right", or something? That's kinda pitiful.
And, if you don't like the results you are free to cite a study that shows different results. Or, do your own study. Right now, this is the best we got, IIRC.
On to the opinion portion of this rant...
Personally, I think it is obvious that they help SOMEHOW. When you're on the verge of muscle failure and you're trying to get up those last few steps what do you do? You push down on your knees with your hands. It makes it easier. Also, when the going gets steep enough to qualify as a "scramble" rather than a "hike", it is definitely easier to climb using your hands in addition to your legs, right? Obviously, being able to apply force with your arms will unload your legs to some extent. I mean, that's simple physics. If you stand between two tables and exert a force downward with your hands, your legs get unloaded. Likewise, if you push backward with your poles, that's less force that your legs need to exert to propel you forward, however trivial it may be.
But I understand that biomechanics isn't just simple physics, so: what isn't so obvious is exactly how MUCH this helps. It may be trivial. But when we're talking about what is, essentially, an athletic activity sometimes incredibly small advantages make a difference. And it still in no way invalidates the "purity" of those who hike without poles- this is NOT an attack on you people, so calm down. This isn't theology. Some times I use poles and sometimes not. Generally, I use them on days with a significant elevation to climb- for balance aids if nothing else. (But, incidentally, if you aren't constantly struggling to keep your balance you're using less energy, aren't you?) On flatter terrain I may go without them or, more commonly and purely for aesthetic reasons, use a single staff. (I'm the kind of guy who has to keep his hands busy...) On flat terrain I think they probably can help you go faster for longer using Nordic technique, but if I just wanted to go faster and get a workout I'd run. And I do trail run on occasion, but when I'm walking I just want to walk- you know, stroll a bit. So the poles are just a nuisance to me. If you're just walking a normal pace (i.e. not Nordic-ing for exercise purposes) on flat terrain I doubt they help much. (Thus, likely Roger's experience in the Australian bush.) After all that's what humans were designed to do. We're endurance plains pack predators.
So... NOT theology. Calm down. You know who you are.
I will now wait for mention of Nazis, guns, global warming, or internet censorship.