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The Seven Signs of Bogus Science

The steps highlighted below are taken from, "The Seven Signs of Bogus Science," by Dr. Robert Park, Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland. P&G Beauty & Grooming scientists have included a brief description of their perspective after each of Dr. Parks' guidelines. Dr. Park developed these guidelines in response to a request from U.S. federal judges to evaluate the validity of testimony given by "scientific experts" in legal trials. 

"I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop."  - Robert L. Park

Sign 1: "The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media."

Reports published directly on internet sites are often uploaded with no scientific scrutiny or peer-review by other scientists. Scientific studies published in reputable journals must go through a process known as "peer-review." Studies are submitted to fellow scientists or physicians who are part of an independent board for review to then be published in the corresponding publication that is developed or endorsed by the board. Bypassing the standard process of expert review and going directly to the media would suggest that the report might be rejected from publication because it is scientifically unsound and would not hold up to further scrutiny.

Sign 2: "The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work."

While this type of allegation may make for good media headlines, sound research is always published and/or validated by additional studies. 

Sign 3: "The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection."

Some studies claim to find chemical toxins in products at such low levels that they may be below the reliability of the detection instruments and thus are questionable. Complicating matters further is the fact that many toxic metals and other agents can be found naturally throughout our environment at very low levels, and therefore the source of the result may not be from the product, but from natural "background" presence.

Sign 4: "Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal."

Many researchers attempt to link unrelated observations with flawed logic, for example "the TV was on when my house caught on fire, so the TV must have caused the fire." Although one event might be caused by the other, there also may be no relationship between the two events. Likewise, the mere presence of a chemical or ingredient where there is a bad outcome in the body does not mean it caused the outcome. 

Sign 5: "The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries."

For example, the myths that say natural ingredients are inherently safer than man-made ingredients  have no scientific data to support the claim other than intuition. It may sound logical, but there are many examples of chemicals in nature that are highly toxic such as botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and hemlock. 

Sign 6: "The discoverer has worked in isolation."

If the discoverer is working in isolation, it may be because the work has been rejected by scientific peers or is not taken seriously on its own merits.  Has the work been reviewed further by government agencies or independent scientific communities? If not, it should be viewed with skepticism.

Sign 7: "The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation."

If the claim contradicts well-established norms of science, there should be extraordinary evidence or a detailed explanation as to how the claim fits into the puzzle of known facts, particularly if it involves changes to a scientific law. 

Sources

Park, R. (2003, January 31). The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science. The Chronicle Review, 49(21) B20.

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