Any modern web peruser is familiar with headlines like those. They ooze out of Digg, climb to the top of Most Popular lists, and get forwarded to everyone in your office. Problem is, we're running out of ways to verify the loads of information we get bombarded with every day: more and more, we're getting our news from blogs, online zines, and internet social media—most of which are understandably far less trustworthy sources. Blogs don't have the resources to hire fact checkers, nor the time to follow up every lead.
So when stories about fascinating new scientific advances or shocking new studies emerge, they're apt to get enthusiastically absorbed and spit out onto the blogroll. Where they then get recycled, forwarded, linked to, and eventually treated as true. And this happens to even the most well-meaning, informed green and science blogs.
Which is why it's more important than ever to know how to tell what's fishy and what checks out when you see an amazing new scientific development?the New York Times isn't going always going to be there to verify all the crazy crap you read online.
Thankfully, Robert L. Park, a physics professor at the University of Maryland has drawn up a list of 7 warning signs of bogus science, which every online internetter should keep in mind while clicking through link after link. This is especially important to people who use the web as a resource for green info (and that's just about all of us): there's a lot of greenwashing running rampant out there.
7 Warning Signs of Bogus Science
Keep these in mind as you read the latest green science news.
1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media
If you ever see an article citing a press release, or sounding too much like a blog post, a red flag should go up. If you see the study cited in an advertisement, it's best to ignore completely.
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work This might seem to give a study or a project some intrigue, but it also means it's probably full of hot air. 3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection Classic bogus science maneuver—these often involve the paranormal or the 'extrasensory.' 4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal Compelling anecdotes can reel you in—but if they're the foundation of a study or a story, steer clear. 5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries Beware of claims of truth based on tradition, folklore, or long held wisdom—a lot of studies about alternative medicine fall are guilty of this one. 6. The discoverer has worked in isolation If there's a dramatic study about a relentless genius toiling in solitude accompanying the study—or even background less dramatic than that?proceed with caution. Studies need to be validated with cooperation from the scientific community to be thoroughly explored and tested. 7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation There's no bending the rules in science. As Clark says, "If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong." Read a more thorough explanation of the different signs at the Chronicle Review.