Some Guidelines on how to Spot Bad Science

Recently I wrote a PSA on Wi-Fi and cancer, and a lot of people disagree with me by sending me links to studies and other news that also disagree. That’s fine, but at the same time a lot more effort goes into scientific research than cherry picking Google results. I don’t claim to know better than these studies, but a scientific study needs to be taken into context of the field as a whole. John Oliver had a good segment on studies and how they can be misunderstood. Compound Interest has a rough guide to spotting bad science and red flags to watch out for. I’ve made use of this guide for some time, and I think it’s helpful.

This graphic looks at the different factors that can contribute towards ‘bad’ science – it was inspired by the research I carried out for the recent aluminium chlorohydrate graphic, where many articles linked the compound to causing breast cancer, referencing scientific research which drew questionable conclusions from their results.

Check It Out: Some Guidelines on how to Spot Bad Science

2 thoughts on “Some Guidelines on how to Spot Bad Science

  • Andrew:

    This is great! The rough guide hits all of the key points that a scientist in training learns didactically and through practical exercise. The absence of knowing these basic identifiers of good vs bad or at least poor science makes it difficult often for the scientific community to effectively communicate with the public. Moreover, most scientists never undergo any training on public communication, and often come across as out of touch or ‘too academic’ when they try. This is an excellent public tool or quick guide for the public.

    One point worth highlighting; many studies suffer from small sample sizes and indequate controls. I sit on a number of scientific advisory boards and working groups, and one limitations we frequently face in these pooled analyses is the quality of the data and strength of the evidence in trying to make inferences for recommendations and policy. It’s a challenge.

    Science is not easy. Good science is harder still. Excellent science is more precious than gold.

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