Seven warning indicators for potential bad science

Perusing Dr. Jos de Laat’s weblog uncovered another article about how to tell real from fantasy. This one is by Robert L Park and appeared in The Chronicle issue dated January 31, 2003. The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate.

I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

These are indicators that the skepticism level should be raised, not that an idea or presentation should be dismissed out of hand. The reason for the skepticism is because these particular indicators are not a part of honest scientific dialog and are often used by charlatans. These kinds of behaviors get in the way of finding the truth, they do not reveal it.

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