APR 2014 –Dale Alan Bryant
How do you tell if the ‘science’ you're reading is ‘bad’ science or ‘good’ science? If the article you're reading has an unfamiliar tone throughout, is ‘newsworthy’ or even “shocking”, or seems to defy common sense and a lot of ‘facts’ are being thrown around without any standard citations being offered (names of authors or scientists - and their supporting institutions), it’s most probably bogus.
There is one popular science website, Space.com, that, even though the presented science is real, presents it in a cheesy, ‘tabloid’ style, using hype tactics in their headlines and by-lines to grab your attention. Selling science by sensationalizing the common to grab the consumers attention is just plain wrong. Moreover, trying to pass off pseudoscience as the real, evidence-based thing is “wrong-est” of all. In fact it’s worse than wrong; intentionally misleading an already mislead (worse yet, confused and gullible) reading or viewing audience is nothing if not criminal.
One of the greatest offenders in these respects is the History channel’s counterpart “History 2”, or, H2 for short. At first glance, H2 appears to be a rather imaginative take on a typically solid subject like history. However, after just a few minutes it becomes shamefully obvious that its subject matter is almost entirely speculation or myth aimed at fostering a “conspiracy theorist” mentality in the casual viewer, rather than thoughtful, rational thinking and preferring to push such improbable entities as ‘Bigfoot’, the ‘Loch Ness’ monster, ‘Ancient Alien’ visitors, ‘werewolves’, ‘Bible codes’, unlikely (and evidence-starved) ‘books of secrets’ and other nonsense, under the all too telling series title, “Monster Quest” (Monster Quest promos even include the throaty snarls and a close-up of the eye of some obviously disgruntled but unidentified creature, as a warning not to mess with it.)
These speculations are tasty bait to a scientifically naive lay public because they cannot be entirely ruled-out – even though not a shred of evidence exists in their support - if they haven’t yet been proven not to exist, conveniently allowing the myths - and their associated profits and ratings - to ceaselessly string along the gullible, one little inaccuracy at a time.
None of this is to say that it isn’t O.K. to ask, “What if?” - after all, that’s where imagination comes in - but that question has to imply viable alternative explanations which conform to known laws of science. Otherwise, H2 is a ‘fool’s paradise’.
Eminent science and science-fiction writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke (who actually conceived the communications satellite for one of his short stories - 30 years before it became a reality and before aeronautical engineers could even accept the idea that such a gadget could be made to trace an orbit around the Earth without immediately falling out of the sky!), commenting on whether he thought the U.S. government had really been involved in a massive U.F.O. cover-up of the purported ‘Area-51’ crash-site incident responded, “Human nature would never allow such a cover-up, especially one of such endurance. If the incident had actually taken place, the whole thing would have completely unraveled within 24 hours.”
So where can we find reputable sources of science (besides the far-too humble author of this essay)?
Every branch of science has its journals which track the general progress of the science. These journals are the “bulletin boards” for scientists to publish peer-reviewed papers announcing a major discovery or significant research. Some examples are: The Astrophysical Journal, The Journal of Cosmology, The Journal of the American Chemical Society as well as more generalized journals like Nature and Science. You won’t find those publications in the popular magazine racks, though they can be accessed on-line. Several, more conveniently accessible publications, can be found in most any store with a good magazine section, like, Barnes and Noble, CVS or even Stop & Shop: the magazines Psychology Today, Sky & Telescope, Discover, Astronomy, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic and many others are reputable resources for real science.
So, what can you do to protect yourself against ‘bad’ science? Use common sense. Question everything; don’t take anything at face value – including this. Check me on it. The information is out there for the taking – all you have to do is the footwork. It’s something no one can do for you. And, as is always the case, particularly with TV programming and advertising, “Let the buyer beware...”