Is the “clean diet” appropriate to lose weight safely?
Should I take vaccines or shouldn’t I?
Should we care about climate change, or do human activities contribute to climate change?
Will I improve my health by taking vitamin supplements?
How many times have you heard these or similar questions? We are constantly bombarded by this type of news. We read on social media, newspapers, hear from politicians, friends who heard from other friends, etc., etc. A recent study published on Science also showed that a fakenews reaches up to 100000 people and a real news only 1000. How can we distinguish between real and fake news? I don’t have a general answer, but I know to some extent, that it is possible to recognise if news makes or doesn’t make sense scientifically!
You are wondering how? Very simple answer! Because scientists go through an academic training during which they learn how to operate adopting a scientific method.
What’s this scientific method then? Back in the 1600s, Galileo proposed a new way to do science. He basically claimed that scientific theories must be supported by data, experiments, and observation. This basic view has been developing ever since and became more precise with new ideas introduced by the philosopher Popper. Popper introduced the falsification principle, which states that a theory is valid until it is proved wrong. Einstein further improved the idea of the scientific method by stating that not only tangible experiments but also mathematical equations can support a theory.
There are two different approaches to the scientific method:
- Inductive approach: in a nutshell, data, experiments and observations lead to scientific theories. This is the basic approach of Galileo.
- Deductive approach: Scientists can come up with novel theories and support them with scientific data later on. This approach is open to the falsification principle, which asserts that a theory can also be wrong if experimental observations prove it wrong.
Now, we get to the point of credibility of scientific news, and this is the tool I want to give you today to be able to understand when the news is real or false.
Is a theory proven by a single experiment, piece of data or observation???? NOOOOOO!!
If experiments, data, or observations are not reproducible, they are scientifically irrelevant. In my field, chemistry, we need to repeat experiments 3 times for them to be scientifically attestable, and the numbers generated in these experiments must be similar within 1% error. When it comes to more delicate questions such as the approval of new drugs, pharma companies need a statistically relevant number, which means, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 experiments or pieces of data.
I hope I have provided some insight into the scientific approach to research and the way academia produces science and research in general. When reading the scientific news, always look for experiments, analysis, verifications and statistics of the idea proposed.
For further readings into the scientific method, please check “>this book on the scientific method on Amazon.
This article is the Italian translation of an article published on the Italian website “We become Scientists – the scientific method”.