Are you looking at scientific research?

This page will help you work out if something is based on scientific research or not. 

It could be useful if you’ve received a response having asked for evidence, or simply if you’re looking at an article, sales brochure or anything else with scientific claims. 

Scientists conduct research to test theories about how things work. The research is usually carried out at a scientific institute or university. Scientists carry out experiments, collect and examine results, and reach conclusions about whether their theory is right or wrong. They will often present their initial findings to other experts at conferences for discussion and debate. 

Scientists will write a paper to describe exactly what they did, and what they found out. The papers are then submitted to academic journals (for example Nature or the British Medical Journal) to be reviewed by experts (called peer review) and published for others to read. 

A scientific paper will have a title, list the scientists who carried out the study (the authors), and name the journal it was published in.

You might be looking at something that references scientific research, even if it isn’t the paper itself (for example, a newspaper article, sales brochure or blog post).  A full reference to a scientific paper usually looks like this: 

Fellers J H and Fellers G M (1976) Tool use in a social insect and its implications for competitive interactions.  Science , 192, 70-72. ... or this: Hedenfalk I, Duggan D, Chen Y, et al. Gene-expression profiles in hereditary breast cancer.  N Engl J Med , 2001; 344: 539-48.

A newspaper article might say something like ‘the research was carried out by scientists at the University of Edinburgh’ or ‘the research was published in The Plant Journal’. If an article doesn’t seem to reference scientific research at all, that’s not a good start!  

Websites and brochures selling questionable products might provide a ream of authoritative or science-y sounding information to give the impression that they’re based on sound science. But it should be very simple: are claims based on published scientific research, or not?

Tags: evidence

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