Look at the filler articles in the well-being section of your preferred newspaper, and you’ll often luck into health advice with nuance-free mentions of all sorts of scientific studies.
One week, drinking coffee is good for you. Next week it’s harmful. Ditto video games. Swearing makes you look intelligent, but hold your flipping horses … the next day, swearing makes you seem verbally challenged to explain your annoyances respectfully.
Gutter press revelations isn’t only less-than-scientific, but it actually defeats the objectives of science.
In June 2014, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an allegedly peer-reviewed paper titled “Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes.” The study deduced that hurricanes with feminine names generate more casualties supposedly because tacit sexism makes communities take the storms with a feminine name less seriously. The work was discredited as soon as its methods were dissected. Nevertheless, the dubious paper had made its way into media channels across the country because of the believability implied by the influential National Academy of Sciences.
Positive results that make a sensational headline tend to get published readily—especially if they speak to the audiences’ worldviews. In truth, many of these studies are low-quality studies where the variables are latent, and the effects aren’t directly observable and quantifiable, especially in the social sciences. Sadly, with the push to produce ever more papers in academia, peer review doesn’t necessarily corroborate the quality of research nearly so much as it enforces a discipline’s norms.
Idea for Impact: Let’s be skeptical readers. Let’s be better readers.
Let’s subject every claim to the common-sense test: is the claim possible, plausible, probable, and likely? Everything possible isn’t plausible, everything plausible isn’t probable, and everything probable isn’t likely.
Being skeptical does not mean doubting the validity of everything, nor does it mean being cynical. Instead, to be skeptical is to judge the validity of a claim based on objective evidence and understand the assertions’ nuances. Yes, even extraordinary claims can be valid, but the more extraordinary a claim, the more remarkable the evidence to be mobilized.
While we’re on the subject, have you heard about research that found that you could make unsuspecting people believe in anything by merely asserting that it’s been “shown by research?” Now then, the former’s the only research worth believing. Very much so, yes, even without evidence!
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