Twenty Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims

Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims

[W]e suggest that the immediate priority is to improve policy-makers’ understanding of the imperfect nature of science. The essential skills are to be able to intelligently interrogate experts and advisers, and to understand the quality, limitations and biases of evidence. We term these interpretive scientific skills. These skills are more accessible than those required to understand the fundamental science itself, and can form part of the broad skill set of most politicians.

A good list, but not a great list. I think some of the examples are still too esoteric. Also, for politicians, one could use more targeted examples, such as the one for sample size. Put it in terms of polls — do politicians ever wonder why polls generally get about 1100 respondents? Sample size to make the results significant at a reasonable-sized random error of about 3%. They might relate better to that.

The list also can be applied to people in general, and it’s concepts such as the ones here that are really the basis of scientific literacy. Not so much the facts of any one discipline, but in the process all of them share. Knowing these tidbits can weed out a lot if bad science.

2 thoughts on “Twenty Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims

  1. “Scientists are human.” I was glad to see this one. Indeed, this is one factor that scientists themselves are often in self-denial of!

  2. I’m not sure how savvy your average politician Joe is, but certainly the list is an improvement on nothing, or on partial awareness of the most common means for quality control of scientific assertions.

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