We see articles floating around like air. They’re ahead of us, behind us and all around us. Some claim to cure cancer, some to awaken your spiritual being. All say they are based on Science. It isn’t uncommon to see headlines starting with “NASA Confirmed” or “Scientists Say”. And we innocent humans read those articles and mostly believe them. There are articles that show diet fads, fat burners, super foods and miracle cures everywhere. We’ve been fed with so much of it that it has become very difficult to distinguish real from fake science.
Therefore, we have decided to lead you out of the darkness. We’ve had it up to here with the fake science circulating everywhere and don’t want any of our readers to be caught up in any of that nonsense. So, whenever you feel the need to distinguish real from fake science, ask yourselves these 7 questions:
1. What is the Source?
Whenever you come across some ground-breaking claims, ask yourself: Is the person claiming an expert? Or are they speaking on behalf of someone else? Maybe they are part of a distributed marketing scam. Are they using a Website or magazine or newspaper ad that looks too sciencey or newsy? Maybe it’s really only one giant advertisement meant to make you think it’s journalism. Google isn’t too far away, a few clicks and you’ll get to know if the claims are legit or just an empty vessel making too much noise.
2. What is the Agenda?
You always need to know the agenda of the claimers. If it’s a scientific paper, look at the funding sources. If not, it’s best you stay highly skeptical. Does the entity making the claims benefit from it? Maybe they’re telling you that something is wrong with you. Something that you didn’t even realize existed in the first place? Then they’re trying to sell you a cure for it. It reminds me of a handwriting specialist that once came to my school. He almost convinced everyone that handwriting could reflect one’s personality and was willing to help us “improve it” for a “small fee”.
3. What type of Language is used?
Does the thing you’re reading or watching use emotional words or exclamation points? Does it use language that sounds highly technical (amino acids! enzymes! toxins!) or full of jargon? Maybe if you look closely they are really meaningless in the scientific sense? If you’re not sure, Google is still near. Sometimes, the words can be used purposely to be misinterpreted so you can’t distinguish real from fake science. Always be on the lookout for sciencey-ness. Albert Einstein once pointed out, if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well. If there’s a lot of jargon and science terms to convince you of some hoax, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about, either.
4. Does it have Testimonials?
Be very, very suspicious if you see a lot of testimonials but no evidence of efficacy. Anyone, just anyone, can write a testimonial and put it on a Website. Recently I came across a weight loss pill fad being sold in our very own city. There is no study or evidence the pill works. Yet, the seller has been posting testimonials all over the place. And mostly with before and after photographs. The before where the person is wearing a very heavy saree, slouchy posture and the after in skinny jeans and fitting tops with a great posture. So look closely before you buy into the fads.
5. Is it exclusive?
It has been thousands of years since people are practicing science and medicine. There are millions currently doing it. Ideally, new findings arise out of existing knowledge, intensive research and involve the contributions of numerous people. It is unheard of that a new therapy or invention emerges completely new without a solid existing scientific background to explain how it works. Much less likely that only one person figures it out, magically. Certainly, something like that wouldn’t just suddenly appear one night on an infomercial, even leaving out the news. Watch out for words like “proprietary”, “revolutionary” and “secret.” These terms are proof that the thing on stake has no history of scientific study.
If the article starts with “Doctors don’t want you to know” or “the government has been hiding this information for years,” stay clear. Think about it, why wouldn’t the millions of doctors in the world want you to know about something that might improve your health? Doctors aren’t a monolithic entity in an enormous white coat making collective decisions about you any more than the government is some detached nonliving institution making robotic collective decisions. They’re all individuals, and in general, they do want you to know.
7. Does it involve many bodily disorders or illnesses?
Does the claim confirm about some serious damage to many body systems? Does it claim you’ll receive widespread therapeutic benefit to many body systems or a range of unrelated disorders? We’ve all seen such claims. This will cure cancer, allergies, that puts an end to ADHD, and autism. The claims are just irrational. We all know how much they’re against vaccines, because, apparently in their belief they cause autism. But it is an unstudied, stupid assumption. And to talk about something that circulates all around my Facebook Newsfeed these days. To distinguish real from fake science, just look at it this way: If Garlic prevented cancer, not one of us Nepalis would have it. After all, we consume it multiple times a day.
Now that you know how to distinguish real from fake science, never let yourself get caught up between the two. Pseudoscience is everywhere, and in the age of Internet, it’s even stronger. Just don’t believe everything you see or hear. After all, running a Google search isn’t that difficult. And you’ll know if what you just read is actually legit.
It is all the more important in our country, for Nepal is the “हल्लाई हल्ला को देश”. So much that the Nepali word “Guff” has made its way to the Oxford Dictionary and into the English Language.
Finally, stay safe of fake science, stay learned. Make sure you look things up before circulating it. Wait, look them up even before you think of believing anything.
Stay skeptical, stay smart.
Have you fallen into any of the pseudoscience traps? Share your experiences in the comments below.