Is That Science Article Valid? A Guide for the Lay Person

Someone on Facebook shares a science article. Should you trust the article? I made up a list of things that go through my mind when I read an article. As I write explanations of them, I’ll add links to the numbered items:

  1. How badly does the story violate established science–and does the evidence warrant the “violation”?
  2. How reliable is the publisher of the story?
  3. Are other sites (reliable and unreliable) reporting the story?
  4. What do the fact-checkers say?
  5. Is it a press release?
  6. How much do I trust the author?
  7. Is the headline sensationalistic?
  8. Does the story point to the original paper?
  9. Do the abstract and conclusion of the original paper support the story?
  10. How robust are the methods?
  11. What is the agenda of the author?
  12. What does Phil Plait say?
  13. What is my agenda as the reader?
  14. Does it look Photoshopped?

I hope to use examples from real articles to demonstrate each of the points. Next, I’d like to go through an article or two to demonstrate the technique. Finally, I might give some examples and see how the readers do on them.

The idea for this series of articles came from a friend who asked me to evaluate an article I think he found on Facebook. In evaluating the article, I realized I went through a checklist in my head that started with “Is the publisher “The Daily Mail” or “The Daily Caller”? Both are notorious for bad science.

I looked to see if anyone else had written such an article. I found many for people reading science journal articles. There was one BBC audio in my browser that I heard a snippet of in the car while listening to Sirius XM BBC (and still haven’t gotten back to…). But these are the things I think about, although not in such an orderly fashion, nor in so consistent a way. And I may add to this list or modify as I write.

If you’d like to read some of the articles I came across, here’s a list:

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