Junk Science is faulty scientific information, research or analysis used to advance the interests or hidden agenda of an organisation or person. For someone who doesn’t understand science or the scientific method, trying to wean facts from fiction in a pseudoscientific article can be near impossible. So how can we tell that the information being presented is factual or not.
The first thing I try and do is find out if the paper/information being presented has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. This can be quite daunting since there are some questionable journals out there that will publish anything. You can find a list of questionable publishers and journals at ScholarlyOpenAccess.com. If the information has not been peer-reviewed or is from a questionable journal, there’s no reason to trust it.
Have a look at the citations at the bottom of the paper, do the researchers cite mostly their own studies ? How many other journals or other researchers have cited the paper in question?
Has the paper been cited by other researchers in their own publications. It will give you an idea of whether the results of the research have been reproduced – reproducible results are a good thing.
Another red flag for me is when the author claims that the information he/she is giving me has been “suppressed” or that it is a “secret” that only they have discovered. This is usually followed with a link to buy their book on how they discovered this “hidden” information.
Search for the author’s credentials or qualifications. Are they from a reputable institution? Does the author have any at all? Sometimes these people do have a legitimate qualification, but for some reason – be it greed, notoriety or both – they promote pseudoscience over science. A recent example of this is when celebrity surgeon Dr. Oz had to appear before a senate hearing and explain his endorsement of weight loss scams.
Another example, with devastating consequences, are the ‘doctors’ who claim to cure cancer with a ‘therapy’ that they have discovered.
Over the coming months I’ll deal with the pseudoscientific claims I come across daily. Some of them are old stories which still find their way into my inbox or onto my Facebook page. You can also link to the websites on my blog roll to search for further information relating to a product or story you’re not sure about.