We live in a world where the line between fact and fallacy can often be blurred. This can happen due to scientific results being accidentally or deliberate, poorly communicated and misrepresented. I think that of all the topics this is the one that underpins the rationale of this course, scientific literacy. It is more than regurgitating facts but rather being able to use knowledge to critically evaluate claims made by others and organisations. The links below will hopefully stimulate discussion and could be used as part of a depth study or an extended response question.
- science in disguise
- Neil Degrasse Tyson Science in America– Why scientific literacy is important.
- Fidget spinners
- Scientific fraud,the conversation.com
- Fake journal articles with a Star Wars theme A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes.
- lots of great examples for this module can be found by listening to an ABC podcast called science Vs-
Click on this link to see the glossary using the Quizlet app.
Inquiry question 1: How can a claim be tested?
A.Plan and conduct an investigation based on testing a claim, and consider:
- the validity of the experimental design
- reliability of the data obtained
- the accuracy of the procedure, including random and systematic error
B.Using examples, evaluate the impact that sample selection and sample sizes can have on the results of an investigation
- sample selection
- sample size
Some links below regarding sampling
- Junk science and how to spot it.(youtube video)
- sampling methods summary based on psychological experiments,
- Sample Sizes for Experiments contains information regarding stats, that is beyond the scope of this course)
- Investigating using sampling– an experiment design example
- Random sampling, pros and cons
- generating random samples to minimise selection bias
- determining sample size
C. Compare emotive advertising with evidence-based claims, including but not limited to:
- health claims on food packaging
- claims about the efficacy of a product
Some interesting articles to get a discussion going
- How do advertisements lure you into buying a product?
- Logical mind v emotional heart. This resource s part of a section from the Toastmasters public speaking page and talks about the different ways people use to persuade others to their points of view and the potential pitfalls of logical fallacies and how emotional connections to the audience can sometimes overcome logic and reasoning.
- logical fallacies a youtube video.
- ACCC media releases on products false claims contain many examples of false claims made by a huge variety of consumer products.
- fulltext Health claims and food advertising: comparison of marketing and nutrition experts’ ratings of magazine advertisements
- Health claims on food products: ministers put marketers in control. An article by the Conversation
- health and food claims NSW food authority
The Most Misleading Health Food Claims from an American blog Men’s Journal
- COSMETIC_SKINCARE_PRODUCTS_CLAIMS language matters when making claims about beauty products
- Substantiation of cosmetic claims A POSITION PAPER PREPARED ON BEHALF OF THE AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY OF COSMETIC CHEMISTS
Impacts on Investigations
Inquiry question 2: What factors can affect the way data can be interpreted, analysed and understood?
A.Using examples, justify the use of placebos, double-blind trials and control groups in order to draw valid conclusions
Background information and definitions
- Youtube video that introduces the concepts of placebos, double-blind trials and control groups with simple example experiments.
- Fair tests in the field of medical science
- General information about clinical trials and how they work
- Is most published research wrong? ( introduces the more advanced concept of p-values and significance of the relationship between variables)
1.placebos and valid conclusions
In medical studies, a treatment, medicine, or therapy given to study participants that is known to have no therapeutic effect on the condition of interest. Placebos are used in clinical trials because they help control an important variable: whether or not the participants know that they are receiving treatment for a condition. With a placebo, neither the participants receiving an experimental treatment and nor those in the control group know whether they are receiving the treatment. source
- The placebo effect a TEDEd lesson
- The placebo effect
- Placebo effects what they are and how doctors prescribe them
2.double-blind trials and valid conclusions
An experiment designed such that neither the participants nor the researchers observing them know which participants are in the experimental and control groups until after the observations are complete. Double-blind experiments are particularly important in the field of medicine because they control for both the placebo effect and unconscious bias on the part of the researchers — two factors that can make the results of a medical study. Source
- Double-blind tests, why they are used and how they are set up.
3.control groups and valid conclusions
In scientific testing, a group of individuals or cases matched to an experimental group and treated in the same way as that group, but which is not exposed to the experimental treatment or factor that the experimental group is. Control groups are especially important in medical studies in order to separate placebo effects from outcomes of interest. Control groups are sometimes also called control treatments or simply controls. This can be confusing since this use of the term is slightly different from what we mean when talking about controlled variables. source
- Control groups youtube video explanation of its use
- control groups scenarios to test your understanding.
B.Evaluate the impact of societal and economic influences on the collection and interpretation of data, including but not limited to:
1)Predicting variations in climate
- 1896 paper written by Svante Arrhenius on the Influence of Carbonic Acid
- NASA climate change and global warming with amazing images and data
in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground
- Confessions of an economist. Building a low carbon world. A TEDEd video.
- Citizen Science app helps track changes of animal populations to track the effects of climate change on those populations.
- The weird and wacky world of climate change denial an article by the conversation
2)Suggesting remedies for health conditions
- Can the source of funding for medical research affect the results? An article from the Scientific American.
- weight loss and fad diets from the better health channel.
- Health care- how stereotypes hurt.
- What used to be fraud is now alternative medicine– Steven Novella, MD, is a faculty member at Yale School of Medicine, a practising neurologist, and the host of the wildly popular podcast “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe,” where he and his group of “sceptical rogues” discuss scientific topics with an eye on calling out flim-flam and hokum.
- Homeopathy evidence reviewed. The NHMRC has reviewed the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating a variety of clinical conditions with the aim of providing Australians with reliable information about its use. This page contains the NHMRC Statement, the Information Paper detailing the evidence as well as an Administrative report.
3)Manipulating statistical data
Misuse of statistics, including causes and examples
Further general background information that covers more examples including the ones above.
- Measuring societal impacts on research a report on evaluating the issues that face science when seeking societal influences on undertaking research.
- Science and society
- the role of citizen science and data collections
- Who pays for Science?
- Job cuts and the future of the CSIRO a news article investigates some impacts of reduced funding in the CSIRO.
Inquiry question 3: What type of evidence is needed to draw valid conclusions?
Evaluate how evidence of a correlation can be misinterpreted as causation, including but not limited to:
- The Hawthorne effect
- A youtube video that outlines the history, uses and limitations of the effect when viewing results in social experiments.
- The Hawthorn effect
2.1991 study that linked hormone replacement therapy to coronary heart disease
- Correlation does not imply causation. General information and examples about correlation and causation. Includes the example relating heart disease to hormone replacement therapy
- Case studies of bias in real epidemiological studies-The rise and fall of hormone replacement therapy.
3.The Mozart Effect on child development
- Listening to Mozart won’t make you smarter. YouTube video
- Fact or Fiction?: Babies Exposed to Classical Music End Up Smarter
- Muting the Mozart effect
General information about correlation and causation
- Information about correlation and causation, including definitions and how each is accounted for. From the Australian Bureau of statistics
- probability and statistics part of a bigger resource, this page focuses on correlations and causation.
- Does the Moon really make you go crazy? An interesting article about the correlation between the full moon and crime rates.
Whenever a study purports to show causality, it’s important to ask questions before simply accepting the conclusion as fact. Was the study observational or experimental? Was it even a formal study, or just anecdotal? What have other studies shown? Is there any bias in the findings? Correlation CAN indicate causality, but by itself is not enough.
Reading Between the Lines
Inquiry question 4: How does the reporting of science influence the general public’s understanding of the subject?
A.Examine a contemporary scientific debate and how it is portrayed in the mainstream media, including but not limited to:
- accuracy of information
- validity of data
- reliability of information sources
Some contemporary scientific debates examples
- Glyphosate and links to cancer
- The debate around vaccines and autism
- The debate around the addition of fluoride to water supplies
- Impacts of biotechnology on society
- Coal seam gas debate and issues
- The debate around the safety of BPA in plastics
- Australian Academy of science information about immunisation and climate change
General links to the validity of scientific information and the media
- Science journalism is in Australia’s interest, but needs support to thrive. An article about the importance of quality journalism when reporting scientific findings.
- Bad Journalism: The danger of Science without context. This article explores the issues of not reporting science in a valid way.
- Signals and noise. Mass-media coverage of climate change in the USA and the UK. This article looks at the influences the media has had over the reporting on climate science, in particular, human-caused global warming.
B.Evaluate the use and interpretation of the terms theory, hypothesis, belief and law in relation to media reporting of scientific developments
- Fact vs. Theory vs. Hypothesis vs. Law… EXPLAINED! YouTube video.
- The media is ruining science-An article by the Washington Post regarding the reporting of scientific “discoveries”.
- 7 misused science words in the media, including theory, law and hypothesis
- From scientific studies to public opinion. Science journalism may have its pitfalls, but there’s plenty we can do to make sure studies don’t get lost in translation.
C. Compare the difference in reporting between a peer-reviewed journal article and a scientific article published in popular media
- Popular science articles – how to write them
- How social media can distort science in the media when communicating science
- Tips of reporting science in the media from the Australian science media centre
- When to trust and when not to trust peer-reviewed journals
- How to write a scientific article. This reference is detailed, however, should give you an idea of the strict guidelines in place when communicating science to other scientists.
D.Analyse how conflicts of interest can result in scientific evidence being suppressed, misinterpreted or misrepresented and discuss measures to counteract such conflicts, including but not limited to:
The tobacco industry and lung cancer
Inventing Conflicts of Interest: A History of Tobacco Industry Tactics
- The study that helped spur the U.S stop smoking movement
- New research points to dangers of “smoking selfies”
- Flavoured e-cigarettes are fueling a dangerous increase in tobacco use
Fossil fuel industry and climate change
- Climate change denial
- The father of climate change– historical accounts for the science behind global warming and the conflicts within the scientific community
- What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic
- Shell grappled with climate change 20 years ago, documents show
Commercial industries researching products for market
- Swallowing It: How Australians are spending billions on unproven vitamins and supplements. The show looks at how these products are regulated
- Conflict of interest in the Coal seam gas industry
- Emission testing tech puts pressure on carmakers
- Car emission testing facts
Asbestos mining and lung cancer
- Asbestos Industry Covered Up Danger for Decades, and Evades Responsibility Today
- Mesothelioma & Asbestos Worldwide
- James Hardie accused of using ‘same old tricks’ to avoid asbestos compensation
General links relating to conflict of interest in communicating scientific results and ways this can be mitigated.
- Conflict of Interest in Science Communication: More than a Financial Issue A systematic review
- Example of how to mitigate a conflict of interest from the University of Southern Queensland
E.Describe the halo effect and, using examples, explain how the influence of positive perceptions can result in the rejection of valid alternative perspectives, including but not limited to:
1. Celebrities endorsing products or viewpoints
- The Halo effect on sports endorsements
- Scammers use the Halo effect and celebrity endorsement to rip off customers
2. Popular brand companies making misleading advertising claims
- 18 false advertising scandals that cost popular brands millions
- Choice shonky awards have lots of examples of popular companies endorsing a shonky product.
General articles about the Halo effect
F. Using examples, analyse a pseudo-scientific claim and how scientific language and processes can be manipulated to sway public opinion, including but not limited to:
- Astrology: Is it scientific?
- Should you trust your zodiac sign? ( a 3:45 min youtube video)
- Iridology- from the sceptic’s dictionary
- Is iridology science-based medicine?
Science as Self-correcting – the Issues
Inquiry Question 5: Can the scientific community and the process of peer review find ‘the truth’?
Listen to this podcast as an introduction Science is supposed to be an unbiased way to uncover nature’s secrets. Through blinded experiments, rigorous peer review and replication—we’ve been told that by using the scientific method, we’ll find trustworthy facts. But, with many scientific findings largely regarded as ‘wrong’, is science broken? To find out, science journalist Wendy Zukerman speaks to Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, Prof. Ivan Oransky, Prof. Barton Zwiebach, Ass. Prof. Alex Holcombe and Dr Alice Williamson.
A.Conduct an investigation using secondary sources to research a scientist who has falsified their scientific experimental results, and discuss the process used to uncover the fraudulent research
Some examples and articles below, including many examples from all over the world.
- The high tech war on Science fraud
- Why scientists need to do more about research fraud
- Academics( University of Auckland) work together to uncover mass scientific fraud
- How Sydney cancer scientist Jennifer Byrne became a research fraud super sleuth
- Fabricating and plagiarising: when researchers lie
- When scientists lie
- Example of scientific scandals from 2012
- Top 10 retractions of 2017
B. Analyse the scientific debate surrounding ‘publication’ and discuss the implications of scientists’ need to ‘publish or perish’
- The forensic implications of predatory publishing. Predatory and unethical publishing on such a global scale is a relatively recent phenomenon designed to bypass normal peer-review, to make money for the “publishers” and to create instant CV’s for authors.
- Publish v perish an article by Berkely Univesity that goes onto describing the peer review process.
- Predatory v trustworthy journals
C.Evaluate the increasing volume of scientific papers being published and assess the feasibility of science to effectively manage, review, replicate and validate investigations, for example:
- Pons and Fleischmann’s cold fusion announcement in 1989
- Alex Smolyanitsky’s falsified scientific paper using the pseudonyms Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabapple, accepted for publication in 2014
- Tom Spears’ nonsense journal submission accepted for publication in 2013
- analyse the benefits of peer review, in relation to the advancement of science another link about peer review here
- discuss the impact of fake science journals on the public perception of science