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Bad Science
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Bad Science

Credit: Strickland Jennifer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Video_recording_of_scientific_research.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

These researchers are making a video as they gather evidence. If more scientists documented their research in this way, it might reduce the amount of “bad science” that occurs.

Why It Matters

  • “Bad science” is science that is done poorly, is biased, or in which the results are cherry picked to support a favored hypothesis. Some “bad science” is even downright fraudulent. Unfortunately, “bad science” may be more prevalent than you might think.
  • Some examples of "bad science" (or its use in advertising) are patently obvious, such as the claims in the ad below. Other examples are much more difficult to identify.

Credit: bigblockbobber; PublicDomainPictures; Robert Lopez (edited)
Source: http://pixabay.com/en/tablets-pills-medicine-disease-193666/ ; http://pixabay.com/en/belly-body-calories-diet-exercise-2354/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Example of bad science [Figure2]

  • So who can you believe when it comes to scientific knowledge? Should you believe a noted scientific authority? or how about the information presented in a peer-reviewed publication?
  • According to medical doctor and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre, neither scientific credentials nor prestigious peer-reviewed publications guarantee sound science. Watch his TED talk at this link to learn more:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_goldacre_battling_bad_science.html

What Do You Think?

Read the article about "bad science" at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What does Ben Goldacre consider to be the weakest form of scientific evidence?
  2. Scientists or science writers may extrapolate from a lab study of cells in a Petri dish to the human body. Why is this likely to be "bad science"?
  3. Why are research studies that lack controls examples of "bad science"?
  4. Assuming that correlation establishes causation is a common practice in "bad science". Explain what it means and why it is "bad science".
  5. Drug company research on new medicines generally gets positive results. How does Ben Goldacre explain this? How can the underlying cause be detected?
  6. What is publication bias? How does it contribute to "bad science"?
  7. What do you think? How can thinking like a scientist and having knowledge of scientific experiments and reasoning make you a wiser consumer?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Strickland Jennifer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Video_recording_of_scientific_research.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: bigblockbobber; PublicDomainPictures; Robert Lopez (edited); Source: http://pixabay.com/en/tablets-pills-medicine-disease-193666/ ; http://pixabay.com/en/belly-body-calories-diet-exercise-2354/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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