Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

This piece, from the Chronicle of Higher Education circa 2003, was brought to my attention courtesy of the fine folks over at the AJoB blog. "The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science" was originally drafted by Robert L. Park, a noted pseudoscience commentator, as a guide "to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense" following the Supreme Court's rulings in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. concerning scientific expert testimony.

It was only later, Park recalls, that he "realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop." And so it is. And so we have Park's list of seven keys for spotting bogus scientific claims or discoveries.

Now this is an old piece that I've just discovered and, for that reason, I'm not going to summarize the whole piece here. After all, that's what links for. I'm including it in the blog in part because it strikes me as just as relevant today as it must certainly have been in 2003 - the recent situation in South Korea, as well as persisting claims that global warming is bogus, come to mind as good candidates for testing Park's seven rules - although that comes as no real surprise. Wherever there is money there are bound to be cheats and liars and scams. And there's plenty of money in science, although not always for the scientists themselves.

Still, it's an interesting (and engaging) piece of writing that, as Park suggests, all of us would do well to familiarize ourselves with. For those of us who aren't scientists, the media, our own limited knowledge and intuitions, and conversation with our scientifically-trained friends and acquaintances fail to provide an adequate or error-proof screening mechanism for the various scientific claims with which we are confronted on a regular basis. As a supplemental guide to evaluating legitimate science, then, Park's seven signs should help any of us cast a skeptical eye upon "scientific" claims that appear too good, or too fanciful, to be true.

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