If it’s on the internet it must be true, right?

from openclipart.org

from openclipart.org

Wrong!  There is all sorts of misinformation on the internet.  Anybody can write anything.  So when some makes a scientific claim or post a statistic how can you tell if it is true?  Well here are some steps you can take to find out if the claim is true.

  • Snopes is your friend.  The first thing I do when someone makes a claim is check for it here, “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation”.  Its primary focus is not on science, but it does contain some science topics.  It is great source for political nonsense.
  • Check some science blogs.  A good source for commentary on medical claims is Science-Based Medicine.  For general science I like to just search ScienceBlogs.
  • Look for the original source.  Often scientific journals are behind a paywall, but you should be able to at least read an abstract (a  short synopsis of a journal article that is usually placed at the front of the article.  All major medical journal article are catalog at PubMed.  Almost all blogs on the sites above will reference original articles.
  • Read everything with a critical eye.  Not all journal articles are equal.  Here are some things to look for.
    • How prestigious is the journal the article was in?
    • In cases of medicine, is it a study on humans or was it done on a lab animal?
    • How many subjects were there and what were the controls?
    • What do the investigators say about their research?  Often reporting about the research will make claims that go far beyond what the researchers claimed in the paper.

These are some good steps to take.  Almost every day I see something in my Facebook news feed that I am skeptical of.  In forthcoming post I will talk about some of the claims I am seeing and dig a little deeper than the nifty Facebook graphic.

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