Monday, July 10, 2017

Is it Fake?

This past weekend, I spent a considerable amount of time at CONvergence in Bloomington, Minnesota. CONvergence is my opportunity to interact with a wide variety of geeks/nerds and talk about a wide variety of subjects.

While I am a huge fan of board games, I spend the vast majority of my time on science panels talking about my work and general cool science stuff. Several of this year's panels focused on how people can tell if a science article is fake or not. My panelists and I (including Doctor V) came up with some excellent criteria.

  1. If they don't cite the original article or study, it's probably no good. Good writers and scientists are taught to cite their sources when possible. When a study comes out, the article should be linked or the source should be cited. For example, if a new study shows that chocolate lowers blood pressure, the article should either have a direct link to the study or say "In this month's issue of Nature, a study by [author(s)] shows that chocolate may lower blood pressure."
  2. If the article has a grandiose declaration, it's likely fake or poorly reported. A lot of websites want to drive traffic to their site. By stating that something "cures cancer" or "cures all diseases," websites can generate more traffic. Unfortunately, if you see these statements it's likely click bait and less likely that the article is truthfully reporting the science.
  3. Check the website. If the site is a known click bait site (Natural News, Info Wars) you are likely reading poorly reported or fake science articles.
I've given you some guidelines on what to look for, but how do you find good sources?
  1. Blogs! That's part of why I wanted to start this one! Look for blogs by reputable scientific journals and scientific societies (we'll talk about that in a second), scientists that are experts in their fields, and groups that publish articles written by the primary scientist who did the work or someone who has a good understanding of the field.
  2. Reputable journals and scientific societies often publish magazines or blogs that summarize (often in layman's terms) and highlight the research in their latest journals. I personally enjoy Microbe Magazine, put out by the American Society for Microbiology. They also have additional blogs written by the scientist who did the research. 
  3. Primary literature. The best way to learn about science is to start reading about the science. Primary literature can often be very difficult to understand at first, and you may have to look up a lot of terms on Wikipedia (usually a good source of general information that cites sources), but once you get a few papers under your belt, they become easier to understand. Many are found behind paywalls, but the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and others have open access journals.
I'm going to try my best to highlight recent scientific articles and talk about the science (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in this blog. I'm happy to take suggestions or answer questions directly as well! You can email me with your questions or articles. 


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