I’m not a scientist and I would never pretend to be one. But, I do have a science degree and I do work in a particularly science-heavy industry, so I feel like I know a few basic things about common science and science.
Which is why it angers me and saddens me that our world today consists of millions of people who will believe anything they read as law without questioning it first. They could be reading the opinions of a five-year old on nuclear weapons and suddenly, that five-year old should be the next Secretary of State – or at least the head of the U.S. Army. Or maybe a housewife with too much time on her hands has created the next fad diet that will melt away the weight with only toilet paper and kosher meals as seen on Orange is the New Black – and suddenly everyone is eating kosher and pretending to be Jewish.
Either way, I’ve come up with a few questions to ask yourself when you’re reading something new. These are meant to simply help you question the validity of everything you read and to get the thoughts flowing – they will not determine fact and fiction for you. Only your amazing God-given brain will do that.
Who is the author of this article/research/data?
Anything that you read that causes you to consider changing any aspect of your life bears some amount of research into the author.
Is the author an honest-to-goodness expert in this area with an advanced degree? Is the advanced degree in a related field to the information they are sharing? (Don’t listen to a Ph.D. in Journalism tell you about Engineering and think she’s an authority!) Does the author work for someone other than themselves? Is their employer a reputable source?
Before you cut all red fruits and veggies from your diet, google the name of the person telling you to do that. If that person isn’t a registered dietitian for a reputable company or a food scientist from a serious university, you probably need to investigate further.
2. Does the article/advice make sense given what you already know?
This particular pointer falls into the “Is it too good to be true” category. No one is going to lose 50 pounds in 1 week using this quick and easy tip. No one is going to single-handedly change the course of human history by eliminating this from their schedule.
As an example, there is a movement supporting raw milk these days. The folks that feed their families only raw milk are ignoring basic science and history that I know they learned in fourth grade. Heating milk to kill pathogens is healthy. The end. If drinking raw milk promises you all sorts of health benefits with none of the risks of Listeria, then it’s too good to be true. It just is.
3. What does the rest of the industry say about this advice/information?
If you’re reading about vaccines, what do all other medical professionals say about this advice? If you’re considering a new exercise plan, what do other personal trainers and physical therapists say about this plan? If you’re worried about the latest food borne illness scare and considering swearing off fruits and veggies, what does the ag industry and the nutritionists and dietitians say about this food borne illness occurrence?
I understand that those of you with a tendency to believe everything you read have a natural hesitation to accept the advice of the industries you’re reading about. You have a natural inclination to be skeptical. But be skeptical of what you read too.
If farmers, who have been farming for decades and whose families have been farming for a century, tell you that an article is not true, it probably isn’t. If a doctor with a real medical degree advises you that the medical community agrees on this course of treatment, trust that to a certain degree.
Even if you don’t 100% believe what the related industry is telling you, hearing their opinion is important to developing a more rounded view of the data you’re considering.
At the end of the day, just use your brain.
I know that reading and understanding scientific articles can be difficult and no fun. Scientists are not skilled journalists and their writing is not always easily understood or very clearly written. But you don’t have to dig through research journals to figure everything out.
Use your brain. You know what sounds too good to be true. You know what seems like complete medical quackery. Listen to the body of experts around you. Do a little research. Remember, not everything on the internet is true.
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