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How to be a more savvy science reader

vox.com

Problems with how we view scientific studies

The world is full of evidence and studies, some good and some poor.

  • One major problem is that scientific lingo often means something different from everyday language. Words like theory, significant, and control have entir...

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  • A hypothesis is often the first step of the scientific method. It is a proposed and still-unproven explanation that can be tested through experiments and observations.

  • In science, a theory is a widely accepted idea backed by data, obs...

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Studies can suffer from selection bias when people are recruited from a specific group that are not representative of the whole. Scientists select a smaller group to study, but the chosen set isn't random enough and is therefore somehow biased in favor of a specific outcome o...

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  • Correlation: Scientists may find that two variables are correlated. They may be related, but it doesn't mean that one is causing the other. It could be a coincidence, or perhaps a third variable is causing both of the other two.
  • Causation: Lo...

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If you are looking at a clinical trial, a psychology study, or an animal study, it must be a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study.

  • Randomized: The participants in the study are randomly placed into the experimental group and the compa...

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In science, "statistically significant" is the effect that can be picked up with a particular statistical tool called a p-value. A good p-value (or calculated probability) is arbitrary and can vary between scientific fields. The cut-off for statistically significant is ...

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One type of conflict of interest is financial. It could be someone who received funding from a company with a vested interest in the study's outcome. Or that person has a relationship with the company that could lead to benefits in the future.

A recent analysis fo...

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In a peer review system, independent, anonymous experts read over a paper submitted to a journal. They can recommend revisions to the text, new experiments that should be added, or even that the journal shouldn't publish the paper.

But reviewers aren't asked to en...

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  • The Impact Factor is the most commonly used metric to assess a scientific journal's influence. It counts the number of times a journal's papers have been mentioned in other papers, relative to their own output.
  • You can find a journal's Impact Factor i...

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