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Science vs. Quackery: How To Spot The Difference

First Posted: Feb 02, 2019 11:54 AM EST
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Some people today have a hard time separating science fiction from science fact. And this is a major problem because there are so many - often contradictory - opinions circulating in the media that it's hard to separate fact from fiction even for a critical mind. Sometimes, there is a clear commercial interest behind the spreading of false facts, other times, it's the author's sincerely held belief - that is simply wrong from a scientific perspective. Today, we'll share a handful of tips on how to tell whether an article is true or false, no matter if it's scientific facts about our faces or about the effects of vaccines on our health.

The magic word

If an article overdoes on words like "miraculous", "secret", and "amazing", you should be suspicious from the start. There is no such thing as a miracle cure - at least not yet - so whenever a product described in an article (that otherwise sounds scientific) as such you should take its claims with a grain of salt. And seek confirmation from at least one trusted source.

Claims and confirmation

The vaguer the claims the text makes, the more suspicious you should be of said claims. If the most specific claims made by the article is "boosts your immune system", "detoxifies your body" or "raises your energy", it is pretty likely to be nothing but a claim. Besides, look at the references on which the claims are based: if there is nothing but testimonials and anecdotes, with no reference to clinical trials and such, it's very likely that the text wants to sell you a product that's not proven to work.

Conspiracies

Whenever the text you read starts making claims about how the doctors or Big Pharma "doesn't want you to know about" its topic, you should put your disbelief into the next gear. These claims are created to play on people's innate disbelief in various industries (the healthcare industry, in our case) and are clearly designed to sell more of an unproven "cure" to as many credulous people as possible.

Expertise and scientific evidence

Making health claims is easy - proving them is, in turn, another matter. Evidence-based science - this applies to medicine as well as to any other area - is based on verifiable and repeatable experiments and trials, no matter if it's an energy source, a medical procedure or a dietary supplement. If there is no reference to clinical trials and the claims are not backed by experts in their respective fields, you should see them as just another unfounded claim.

There's no such thing as a panacea

Last but not least, let's make one fact clear: there is no such thing as a universal cure. Whenever a product is advertised as a cure for everything from the common cold to brain cancer, it is probably something that is unproven to improve any of these conditions.

The internet is a vast source of information where you can always double-check any suspiciously-sounding claim. Hopefully, everyone will learn to differentiate between actual science and quackery so that the efforts of those launching such wild claims with the sole purpose of making some extra money will be futile in the future.

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