One of the remarkable things about science is that it works. It produces results that are repeatable, testable, and useful. So what is it about this enterprise that we call science that makes it so successful? Philosophers and historians of science have struggled for over a century to answer this question and the related question of how to distinguish science from non-science (the well-known ‘demarcation problem’), and have basically come up empty.
But the fact remains that we are bombarded on a daily basis with reports that invoke the undoubted prestige and reputation of science in order to persuade us of some proposition or other, especially in the fields of medicine and health. How do we evaluate the worthiness of such claims?
Emily Willingham tackles this somewhat more tractable problem of how to distinguish real science from fake science in popular media and comes up with ten guidelines that I thought were pretty good. Here are the ten questions she says that one should ask:
1. What is the source?
2. What is the agenda?
3. What kind of language does it use?
4. Does it involve testimonials?
5. Are there claims of exclusivity?
6. Is there mention of a conspiracy of any kind?
7. Does the claim involve multiple unassociated disorders?
8. Is there a money trail or a passionate belief involved?
9. Were real scientific processes involved?
10. Is there expertise?
Her article elaborates on how one can answer these questions and makes for interesting reading.