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Friday, December 19, 2003

The Pseudoscientific Sham

How often has this scenario played out right under your nose?

...So you're watching television, and CNN/Fox/ABC/CBS/ETC. reports that researchers at a major University have shown that _________ causes ________.

So what happens? The next day, people are chugging fish oil, abstaining from chocolate, standing on their heads and rubbing their bellies, etc.

What they never remind you of is the fact that scientific research depends on replication. Until the same research is conducted under the same experimental conditions time and time again, no causal relation should be assumed.

Science, like travel, often reconfirms predjudice as much as it broadens the mind.

If you really want to understand a situation, rather than looking at one particular study, why not look at a meta-analysis? A meta-analysis places all research places all relevant studies side by side and analyizes the data.

There is always a charlatan scientist willing to sell out to the tobacco industry, the gun lobby, or the flat earth society. When one relies on replication and meta-analysis in the formation of opinions, erroneous assumptions can be avoided.

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