Turning on the TV these days, it seems as if every talk show and news station is touting the results of a new and exciting study. Whether it’s finding the miracle health benefits of chocolate or coffee, some of these studies just seem too good to be true. And that’s exactly the problem: Most studies really aren’t as good as they may sound, and it’s important to be on the lookout for what’s fact and what isn’t.
The reality is that most false studies masquerade as fact. One of the reasons is that scientists are often pressured to come up with eye-catching articles, because their success depends on getting research published. This creates bias. In many cases, data are manipulated to produce more interesting headlines. Sample sizes may be deliberately small, which skews results. The scary part is that although most studies are false—according to Professor John Ioannidis of Stanford University School of Medicine in his study, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” published in PLoS Medicine—very few are replicated to determine the accuracy.
And more often than not, those studies are then reported by the media, which can lead to the increased sharing of fake news. We have witnessed how fake news can influence anything from political movements to parents deciding not to vaccinate their children. Just because a study might be shared extensively throughout the media doesn’t mean you should believe the hype.
This means that it is up to you to determine what you’re reading or watching is accurate, and that’s a lot of responsibility. Fortunately, we have some tips that can help.
For starters, it’s good to check out if and where the study in question was published. In your digging, you’ll find that some publications are more reputable than others, or you may discover that a study was sponsored by a group with an interest in the results, something that should raise eyebrows. In addition, be sure to look at the parameters of the study, such as the size of the sampled group and whether there was a control put in place. And finally, if you see a study making an astronomical claim, look at it with skepticism, because more likely than not, it’s clickbait.
The next time you hear or read the phrase, “a new study shows…” you’ll now be ready to interpret the results more effectively. And once it passes your scrutiny, then it can be ready to be shared on your favorite social media site.