Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

3 Tips for Avoiding Fake News in Science

Astrophysicist Michael J. I. Brown offers some guidelines for identifying fake or bad science.

satellite array
(ALLISON HILL)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about fake news, and many consider it a genuine threat to a well-functioning democracy. Some of it results from political mischief, or worse. It’s also happening in science reporting as researchers, writers, and publications attempt to gain attention with sensational headlines. Inconclusive evidence may be presented as fact, and sometimes it’s just bad science. Check out RetractionWatch, a site whose purpose is trying to keep up with scientific papers that have been recalled after publication — there were 700 retractions in 2015 alone.

Astrophysicist Michael J. I. Brown is concerned with how difficult it’s become to separate real scientific breakthroughs from clickbait. Writing for Science Alert, he shares his three-step checklist for sorting the truth from the trash. Even with his checklist, it’s not always easy for a real scientist like him to be confident of a study’s validity. But nobody likes to be fooled by fake or bad science.

Neatness Counts

This may seem superficial, but Brown asserts that it’s not. Given that carefully conducted research typically takes a long time, even years, a study that looks slapdash may well be. Typos and cruddy-looking graphics can be a clue that a lack of due diligence is at play.

(LAURIE SULLIVAN)

Brown cites a recent, well-publicized paper by E.F. Borra, E. Trottier that claimed in its Comments section: “Signals probably from Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Brown was curious, so he had a look. “An immediate red flag for me was some blurry graphs, and figures with captions that weren’t on the same page,” Brown writes. Looking further, he discovered that the author’s conclusion was based on a liberal application of Fourier analysis, which Brown says is known to generate data artifacts that skew results. He also learned that Borra and Trottier chose to work with only a tiny subset of data. Together, Brown feels these two factors render the study questionable at best.

He points out, though, that the neatness filter isn’t always a reliable test, since sometimes great science comes in a less-than-great presentation, as with the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Obviousness

As Brown puts it, “’That’s obvious, why didn’t someone think of that before?’

Well, perhaps someone did.” When a study announces something really big and basic, Brown suggests you do a search on that announcement — odds are that you’ll find the topic’s been studied many times before. If you find that to be the case, and if you find no one else came to the same conclusion, what you have is a red flag that should have you carefully considering the new study’s methodology.

(MIKE LICHT)

Brown’s example here is a recent study that asserted the universe isn’t expanding at an accelerating rate, contrary to earlier, well-regarded research. Brown found an edifying discussion by experts on Twitter (one of whom referred to their discussion as “headdesking”) that dismissed the study as having been based on incorrect assumptions about the behavior of the supernovae it examined, and on the ignoring of some key counter-evidence.

. @Cosmic_Horizons @ScienceAlert A glaring mistake is they assume that the properties of all the supernova have a gaussian distribution - no

— Brad Tucker (@btucker22) October 24, 2016

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Ernst Haeckel
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
  • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
Keep reading Show less

Can VR help us understand layers of oppression?

Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.

Future of Learning
  • Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
  • Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
Keep reading Show less

Russia claims world's first COVID-19 vaccine but skepticism abounds

President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced coronavirus vaccine at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Coronavirus
  • Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Russia.
  • Scientists around the world are worried that the vaccine is unsafe and that Russia fast-tracked the vaccine without performing the necessary phase 3 trials.
  • To date, Russia has had nearly 900,000 registered cases of coronavirus.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast