We’ve seen a lot of good science practiced by dedicated scientists. They put in the long hours researching the literature, performing the experiments and analyzing the data. When they think they have something worth sharing with the world they publish it in the journals available for their chosen field. The paper is reviewed before it’s published to try to screen out any glaring errors. But the real test comes after publication when the whole community has a chance to look it over.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bad scientists dedicated to bad science. They might put in long hours promoting their pet theories, but they don’t seem to be able to put the same effort into challenging them. If they do any experiments they’re usually designed to prove the theory rather than test it. One of the hallmarks of a good scientific theory, in contrast, is that it’s open to be disproved. The longer it survives, the better it is.
Signs of Bad Science
Here are a few signs to watch for when you hear about a new discovery and you want to know if the science is good or bad:
While good science allows itself to be reviewed first by other qualified scientists, bad science often sidesteps that potential pitfall by going directly to the media. This is sure to raise the suspicions of the scientific community. If this is such a good idea, they ask, why didn’t they subject it to the scrutiny of their peers?
Another warning sign is if the evidence is anecdotal, based on stories or testimony. Unless the claims are tested with something like randomized double blind trials, they have nothing but claims.
It’s a Conspiracy!
A popular way of validating one’s pet theory is to say that there is a conspiracy to suppress it. If the scientific establishment doesn’t accept my invention of a perpetual-motion anti-gravity machine, then it must be because they want to cover it up to protect their vested interests.
There is a lot of bad science around. That is a problem because it can mislead people. We need to be able to trust our sources of information if we’re to make sound decisions. The proliferation of bad science tends to pollute the good stuff, and can lead to people distrusting real science. Fortunately there’s lots of good science, if only people have the tools they need to tell it from the junk.