Science vs. Hype

Here is a great piece on how to analyze and be critical of scientific research. The approach gives five fundamental points, and can be applied to academic papers and more casual articles alike. An absolutely cornerstone resource for thinking critically. Here’s one:

1. Separate the sales pitch from the science

Almost everyone is trying to sell something. In articles about science, the sales pitch is usually right in the headline. The science is harder to find.

Start by looking for a quote from a scientist. Read the quote but ignore the spin the author put on it. Don’t forget that scientists can have biases too: be skeptical of scientists who don’t acknowledge the limitations of their research and fail to present alternate explanations. Also, check to see who’s funding the research- they might have an agenda too!

In short, read articles carefully and figure out if the claims they make are based on the facts they present.

For the rest, check out the article here. (HT: Miles Kimball)

[Edit: Kimball (here discussing the term supernatural) links to Adam Gopnik with a few choice words in support of science – first on the scientific revolution:

The scientific revolution wasn’t an extension in erudition. It involved instead what we might call a second-order attitude to erudition – and if that sounds fancy, it just means the human practice of calling bull on an idea which you think is full of it, and being unafraid to do so.

Then, on the present:

The glory of modern science is that, while only a very few can understand its particular theories, anyone can understand its peculiar approach – it is simply the perpetual assertion of experience over authority, and of debate over dogma.]

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