From Compound Interest/compoundchem.com: A Rough Guide To Spotting Bad Science*
The maker of the graphic from Compound Interest/compoundchem.com , a blog out of the UK written by a ‘graduate chemist and teacher’, says the following:
Ahh, a blogger’s dream – to find an attractive and informative graphic you wish you were awesome enough to have made yourself but that is thankfully available to use under a creative commons/attribution license. That means you can post said graphic on your blog with no fear of being hunted down by the copyright police as long as you follow proper procedures.
These days most regular folks appear to get their science news in the form of internet articles and blog posts so it is probably prudent to develop some sound discernment skills regarding the scientific claims in the articles we read. How many of us are willing to sift through long, dry, exhaustive research reports? And even if we were willing, would we understand the hard data we were looking at? Would we even make it past the abstract? It is a sad fact that a large portion of the population of otherwise educated folks, myself included, is incapable of distinguishing good science from bad.
Please read on for an analogy that I think might help shed light on this matter.
Let’s look at the art of calligraphy – kalos graphos – beautiful writing. You know – the flowing hand scripts or prints created with a flat edged pen dipped in ink. The special writing device required for this aesthetically pleasing text was originally carved from a large quill feather. In modern times, the separate metal pen tip is referred to as a ‘nib’ and in the last several decades, all-in-one broad-edged pens and felt-tip markers have made calligraphy for the masses a snap – or have they?
I took a few calligraphy classes in high school and college . This experience instilled in me a lifelong love and appreciation for calligraphy. I even won a national contest once and my work was displayed in a local gallery. With a quick eye-balling, I know good calligraphy from bad. There is a LOT of bad calligraphy out there. In fact, much of what you see in neighborhood craft fairs or on art-for-sale websites is pretty darn bad but people don’t know any better and think it is good. I think in many cases the creator of the calligraphy also believes it’s good. Maybe he or she was never trained or trained poorly. Pick up pen, dip in ink, put on beautiful parchment paper = good.
The problem is simple: they don’t have a trained eye.
People have to be trained to appreciate or understand a lot of things in both the arts and sciences: fine food and wine, classical music, jazz, metamorphic rocks, algae, algorithms, boxplots, wave mechanics, binary numbers – and the list goes on and on.
If it seems I’m digressing a lot, I’m really not. All of this ties in.
So, before going any further, I should also mention that I had another idea for a post today. In my twitter feed I saw something about coffee being jam packed full of carcinogens but who really cares because there is a study of lab animals showing that carcinogens are everywhere, chemicals are everywhere and that it’s the dosage, not the substance itself, that turns everyday exposures into toxins.
In other words, we come into contact with “dangerous” chemicals and potential carcinogens every day. No big whoop.
So, anyway, I saw this tweet about coffee – you can look at it here – and it helped me plan this post.
Another tweeter happened to ask if there was an online reference for this information and the first tweeter posted two links. Both of the links were to long science reports that covered much more than just the chemicals and carcinogens in coffee. For the likes of little ol’ non-scientist me, that’s a lot to get through for a single post. I may still do it, but it won’t be today. In other words, sometimes I want something easier and faster, like an article written in layman’s terms. But I want it to be grounded in evidence. The last thing I want to post is psuedo-science crap! Those days are behind me.
That’s why I love Twitter so much. Check back often. Sooner or later you’ll find something not too long, not too short, not too complicated, not too dumbed down – something just right.
My sincere thanks to Compound Interest/compoundchem.com for the graphic above. Please visit this blog – it attempts to demystify chemicals. I will now be a regular visitor!
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* In order to fit the entire graphic in so it was readable, I had to break it up into smaller pieces.
 All of my instruction in calligraphy originated within a group of instructors trained by Lloyd Reynolds and later, Robert Palladino of Reed College. Palladino was the calligraphy guru (also later a priest) behind the design inspirations of Apple’s legendary Steve Jobs. Here is a short video about Palladino and his teachings called The Calligraphy Heritage at Reed.
This article was edited at 10:03 a.m. PST.