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Science Literacy Week

Evaluating Science and Society

New and interesting science is reported in the news all of the time but sometimes it can be hard to:

  • identify whether or not a reported study's findings and everyday impact have been misrepresented or exaggerated
  • determine if the original study being reported was conducted well and if its results can be trusted
  • understand its true impact on our everyday lives

Some questions to ask yourself the next time you see a  headline debating the existence of climate change, a bestselling wellness book by a celebrity, or an ad for a new wonder diet pill:

  • Does the social media post or product packaging try to use scientific-sounding language to seem more legitimate? Tactics like ‘scienceploitation’ are often used to push questionable health treatments
  • If you're reading a news article, do other scientific experts provide their opinion and explain what a study's findings could mean for the real world? A single study with a small sample size of just ten people does not mean the results can be applied to the general population
  • Is just one source or a single study being cited as definitive proof of their position? More often than not, a poorly-constructed, single study is cherry-picked and then amplified to justify a cause - such as anti-vaccination believers citing Andrew Wakefield's long-debunked study alleging a connection between autism and the measles vaccine 
  • Ask yourself if it's believable because the science seems sound, or if it just might be a case of confirmation bias - that is, you're more inclined to believe what you're hearing and ignore any proof to the contrary, because it reinforces your preconceptions about something

Adapted from Science Literacy

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