let's talk farm animals

How do you judge “scientific credibility”?

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

I like to think that I get my science information from good sources. When it comes to animal ag science, I listen to animal scientists, not politicians or grocery stores.  More over I listen to what other scientists say about a research study, not so much what media or interest groups may have to say in their interpretations.

It is the methodology of the research and the assumptions used that matters, not who pays for it or who promotes it.

Scientific results are best judged by scientists not the public.

Or so it should be. There is good science, meaning it was well conducted and bad science meaning it was not. That comes down to the methodology.

Fellow scientists can read a paper and decide whether the methodology was appropriate. Scientists are trained to look at data and figure out if results were interpreted accurately. By going directly to the research, scientists can judge how the knowledge was built rather than who produced it. That’s why the credible scientific journals have blind peer-review systems, where qualified scientists judge each other’s research and sift out flawed research from credible research.

For the rest of us, figuring out scientific credibility is a tricky job.  After-all the public isn’t about to read peer-reviewed journals. And since most of us are scientifically illiterate in the first place we rely on others to tell us the “scientific truths.”

There are different ways that ordinary people view the credibility of scientific research.

Despite what should be a focus on the content of scientific claims, rather than the person or organization making the claim, it’s hard not to take the messenger’s pedigree into consideration. Even in the scientific world scientists are judged on who they studied under, whether they have been published in major peer reviewed journals, and whether their institutions have good resources. In the public world we judge scientific news and which is often misreported, by who reported it, who funded it, and who stands to benefit from it.

And that largely explains why industry funded research gets a shorter shrift than government research in the court of public opinion. It also explains why celebrity scientists or NGO scientific reports can hold sway with the public rather than the merit of their science (or lack thereof).  And it also explains why there is so much junk science out there, and why so many people believe it.

Until the Next Blog


Posted by BCGL on February 25th, 2013 :: Filed under Consumers,Innovation and technology,Research,Uncategorized
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