Every day we are flooded with the newest that science has to offer. From morning talk shows and late night news to our social media feeds, it seems like there is a study to prove just about anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across a study that proves one thing and then another that proves the exact opposite. In such a climate, how are we ever expected to find out the truth and differentiate the facts from the bullshit?
But the problem doesn’t lie within the scientific method itself, but rather the way the scientific community operates.
Reasons For Misleading Studies
On factor at play here is money. Scientists are often paid to publish specific studies with specific outcomes, based on the vested interests that are funding the studies. Basically, if a company wants a certain result, they can pay a scientist to find that outcome by any means necessary — even if those means include sacrificing the very integrity of the study.
Brian Nosek, a doctor working for the Center for Open Science, explains what motivates scientists to put forward misleading claims: “My success as a scientist depends on me publishing my findings. And I need to publish as frequently as possible in the most prestigious outlets that I can.” So in order for him to establish a reputation that will allow him to conduct the research he wants, he must do whatever he can to get his name recognized first.
Conducting a study in this way, with an outcome already predetermined, is known as P-Hacking. It involves collecting a large amount of variables and then tinkering with the data until you are able to find something that counts as statistically significant, but could essentially be completely meaningless. Making this predetermined conclusion appear as if it came about from a real scientific method of evaluation can be achieved by various means, such as using small sample sizes, relying on studies only performed on mice or rats to conclude ‘proof’ of something in relation to humans, and blatant data manipulation — including, excluding, or rearranging it to support the presupposition of any scientist.
And scientists get away with this all the time. Most people hear about a study only by reading a headline or watching the news, not bothering to look into the details to find out for themselves whether a legitimate method was used or not. The average person wouldn’t be able to tell even if they did do this extra research.
What’s worse, these studies are almost never replicated to prove their efficacy. Scientists aren’t paid to replicate studies, so they have little incentive to do so. This means all sorts of claims can be made and they will be taken at face value. In reality, if the studies were conducted again by neutral scientists, a different outcome altogether might emerge. Think about it: Are you more likely to trust a study that was conducted once, or a study that was conducted multiple times, with different variables and across a broad sampling of the population?
And if a study tells you that drinking champagne every day or eating junk food is good for you, are you more likely to do it in the future because science told you it’s okay?
The problem is, generally we just accept what is handed to us. Accordingly, scientists can continue performing these studies in this way without fearing any backlash from the public. Surely if science says blank, it must be true? So the scientists who are publishing these often fraudulent studies are receiving praise instead of criticism.
.John Oliver outlines this whole charade in great detail in the video below.
Video: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
As Oliver points out, this type of blatant fraud can prove dangerous, duping us into believing that certain things are healthy for us when they actually aren’t and helping us justify our own bad habits. This is pure madness, and it proves the stranglehold corporations have over our well-being. Any company with enough cash can pay for the results they want, regardless of if our safety will be at risk as a result. There is therefore little funding available for scientists to perform and publish studies accurately, as they are being overshadowed by big, bold, misleading headlines.
How To Navigate Through The Bullsh*t
Although it can be difficult, there are a few things you can do to help separate fact from fiction, so you can more easily discover the truth about important issues, especially when it comes to your health.
As a writer for Collective Evolution it can be quite challenging at times. Many people won’t even consider research that has not been peer-reviewed, on the grounds that it cannot be credible or scientifically sound. This is simply not true. Many independent studies are doing groundbreaking research that is worth our attention, but do not have the funding to be properly peer-reviewed — mainly because big corporations aren’t paying them to reach a specific conclusion.
Here are some things you can do to determine if a study has been properly conducted:
- Find out, if possible, who is funding the study
- Look at their method of testing
- Look at the sample size
- Were the subjects humans?
- What was the duration of the study?
- Does the outcome match up with the headline or title?
- Was the study a double-blind study?
- Has the study been replicated with the same results?
- Think critically
That last point is essential. If something sounds too good to be true, like, “eating ice cream at every meal will help you lose weight,” then it probably is. Use your head. Don’t just believe what is more appealing to you, but be smart about what you read. Most importantly, question everything.