What medical researchers mean when they say ____

Just because a scientific paper sounds authoritative, it doesn’t mean we should always take what’s published in journals as gospel. For example, here’s what scientists might really mean when they pontificate:

“It has long been known” . . . [I didn’t look up the original reference]

“A definite trend is evident” . . . [These data are practically meaningless]

“Of great theoretical and practical importance” . . . [Interesting to me]   Continue reading

Be suspicious of research presented at scientific meetings

I’m not a scientist. I’m merely a dull-witted heart attack survivor who started asking questions about the fistful of cardiac drugs I now have to take each day.  But I did spend 20 years of my life living with a scientist, which meant countless scintillating breakfast table conversations on topics like zinc and copper sediment in the Fraser River estuary. (Does that count at all?)

One thing I did learn from such scintillation is that there’s research – and then there’s research.

Or, as New York Times journalist Andrew C. Revkin, author of Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, reminds us:

“For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD!”

This may help to explain why we can read in breathlessly urgent news headlines that coffee causes cancer, yet the very next week we’ll read that coffee, paradoxically, prevents cancer.    . Continue reading

The Five A’s of Empty Arguments

A common warning sign of the misuse of science is trying to make the science appear conflicting and undecided (when it isn’t) by burying us in conflicting studies. Consider climate change research, for example, and internal documents found at Fox News ordering staff to cast doubt when reporting on all climate change science news.

The very cheeky Dr. T over at Thinking is Dangerous reminds us that, unfortunately, these techniques can be quite effective in confusing the public.

This is particularly true when people don’t understand how to recognize a well-designed, strong study of merit versus a poorly-designed weak one. So to help us all better understand, he presents us with his Five A’s of Empty Arguments:

Continue reading