I was in the park the other day talking to a fellow mom about the whole issue of “junk science”. Junk science is everywhere. So in the interest of humor and with a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I present “It Might Be Junk Science If”

It might be junk science if…the documentation of sources would be unacceptable in the second grade.

My son did a report on Opossums for school and they insisted on knowing where the research came from. Reporters who say things like “studies show” without highlighting which actual studies show this “fact” are probably just making stuff up. Literally. There may be no actual study at all. You should always be able to see the original study. I am still waiting for the one about eight glasses of water per day. Did they test eight against six? What happened to people who only drank six glasses of water? Who did the research?

It might be junk science if….it makes your life way easier.

This is stuff like, chocolate is good for you, or kids don’t benefit from homework, or you only need to exercise 10 minutes a day. Very often there is a grain of truth in these statements…like one drink a day is good for you once you know what one drink means…and it means that a single small Margarita is 4 drinks (2 shots tequila and 2 of triple sec). so drinking something amazingly small each day is good for you. You can spot these because the headline implies one thing and the details imply something else.

It might be junk science if…there are 100 studies all with the same odd bias.

The best example of this one is the whole, GMO foods don’t hurt rats. There are genuinely hundreds of studies that show this. This problem is that the rats were all killed after a few months in every study. It was not until the team in France let the rats live out a normal life expectancy that they got those tumors. Look for a consistent boo boo. That often implies junk science. The same is true if the studies are all done by the same people or all paid for by the same people. Real scientists try to prove themselves wrong.

It might be junk science if…their statistical reasoning implies an inability to do 5th grade math.

I recall reading a study once and seeing the comment that 8% of the first group had a problem and 32% of the second group so the risk only increased by 24%. Hunh? That is not how percents and fractions work. This should have been covered no later than middle school For those of you wondering, the risk went up 300%. When this nonsense is in the paper, you know you are looking at junk because someone should have caught the error and also people who know that little about statistics can’t interpret them.

There are many more types of junk science out there from studies that don’t look at enough subjects, to ones that are too short in duration (cancer takes more than a month to develop) to ones where the author already has a conclusion after his one study of five people. That said, this little list should weed out the worst of the worst and hopefully it will make you a wiser consumer of information.

Good Luck. There is a lot of bad science out there.