Verifying the science you read can be tricky. After reading a scientific publication, check the underlying assumptions and look for internal consistencies. Look up references and studies the publication was based on. Talk to a scientist in a relevant field for more verification and clarification. Save yourself a lot of time and energy by choosing only high-quality sources published by peer-reviewed journals, governments, and trustworthy nonprofits.
EditChecking the Sources
- Take note of verifiable facts as you read. Whether the science you read is an article, book, or web page, read the text in its entirety. As you read, pay attention to details. Write down or make a mental note of things that are confusing or unclear. Use a highlighter or pen to underline, circle, or highlight facts that can be verified.
- Verifiable facts are those which are based in objective reality rather than on opinion, conjecture, or unfounded belief.
- Consult referenced data. All verifiable science relies on the work of other scientists to establish its credibility and inspire further studies. One way to verify the science you read is to follow up on the information provided in the study’s footnotes. Check referenced sources to ensure that their conclusions and statistics match those presented in the science literature you’re attempting to verify.
- If you’re reading science in a popular publication, sources will be cited in the text rather than in footnotes or endnotes.
- Non-specialized sources should describe specific studies but might not refer to published peer-reviewed article by name. They might also refer to certain scientists or authors, or to the titles of scientific journals where relevant publications appeared. Use this information to track down more information whenever possible.
- Talk to a scientist. If you’re confused about the science you read, contact a relevant scientist to help you verify it. For instance, if you wish to verify an astronomical report you read, you could contact an astronomer. If you wish to verify a physics issue, contact a physics professor.
- When you’ve discovered someone to help you verify the science you read, contact them and pose your question. Always be polite and professional when communicating with professional scientists.
- Preferably, you will contact more than one expert in the field of the science you read. This will give you a range of opinions regarding whether the science you read is accurate.
EditTaking a Second, Careful Look
- Look at declarative statements. If you read science that has lots of declarative statements (for instance, “It is large”) and is low on quantifiable (numbers-based) data, steer clear. Verifiable science will utilize specific numbers, measurements, and sizes when reporting results.
- Check the terms used. Look out for vague or imprecise language. Likewise, avoid science that uses common scientific terms in a novel way. Verifiable science will use terms that other scientists in the field would readily understand.
- For instance, if the science you read says, “The heart-consciousness will heal you when you are ready,” you can safely discount it, since there is no “heart-consciousness” known to heal the human body.
- Beware of facts that are stated absolutely. Many scientific questions are settled and have been for many years. For instance, the science you read might contain clear and categorical explanations regarding why the stars shine or why trees grow. However, some scientific questions are still open to exploration, and the answers are less clear. If the science you read contains facts stated absolutely with little or no corroborating research behind them, you should consider that a red flag.
- For instance, the scientific understanding of why we dream remains imperfect. So if the science you read states, “This is why we dream,” instead of a more cautious statement like, “This may be why we dream” or “This could be why we dream,” be wary.
- Look for internal inconsistencies. If the science you read has charts and statistics that do not jive with the conclusions drawn by the author, you can discount the publication as flawed. Likewise, if the science you read has two conclusions which are at odds, or two data points that contradict each other, the science should be considered untrustworthy.
EditConfirming the Information Elsewhere
- Choose trusted publications. High-quality science might come from trusted governments, universities, individuals, peer-reviewed journals, and some nonprofit organizations. When checking a book or article for quality, it should be written by someone with significant experience in their scientific field. If you’re reading a scientific article or textbook, the scientist who authored it should have a PhD and long experience at a university or research institution.
- Lay publications will, of course, likely be written by someone without a PhD. The author might even be a student. If the lay publication is trusted, you may consider it a reliable source.
- Choosing high-quality sources means someone has already verified the science for you before you read it.
- Only use sources which are free of apparent bias. Poor quality sources are those which have a vested interest in the scientific results or data they are verifying or refuting. For instance, if you read science produced by a fossil fuel company regarding the polluting impact of their products, the company is producing scientific research which could directly impact its fortunes. In such a situation, you should be skeptical of the data.
- Good sources will provide a high degree of transparency, and include disclaimers regarding funding sources. They will also name all participants in the scientific research.
- Compare the science you read to other publications on the subject. One way to verify the science you read is to check it against other sources on the topic. After reading a scientific article or publication, look the topic up in an encyclopedia or another trusted text. This way, you will learn what the consensus view on the subject is.
- Comparing the science you read against many other publications will help you determine whether the science you read is consistent with mainstream scientific thought.