These days, you can't open a newspaper or magazine without bumping into bad science: poorly explained topics, unsubstantiated claims, theories touted as facts. And the web isn't helping any -- anyone can put up a website and claim whatever they choose. So, how do we separate bad science from good?
Ben Goldacre is a British doctor who writes a weekly column in the Guardian devoted to the topic of Bad Science. He also teamed up with Planet Science to develop a series of experiments to test some of the crazier claims.
I like the idea of taking bad science and using it for good. Testing crazy or unproven claims (as long as they aren't dangerous) can be fun. It's also a good opportunity to practice setting up an experiment.
For example, instead of rolling your eyes at the next television commercial -- the one that promises that this new and improved breakfast cereal is tastier than the leading brand -- why not put the claim to the test? Set up your own scientific trial at breakfast. Blindfold your family, put two bowls of cereal (one bowl of the old brand, one of the new) in front of each person, and record their responses. Do they like the new cereal? Could they taste a difference?
Or, if a new dishwashing detergent claims to make your dishes less spotty, do your mom a favor and run a load of dishes. Compare the newly washed glasses to the previously washed ones. How do they compare? Do you get a different answer if you count the spots in a new way? Do you get a different answer depending upon how many dishes you examine?
Questioning the world around you is the hallmark of a good scientist. And that applies to everything you read -- including this post!
(My thanks to CricketB for pointing out the benefits of Bad Science!)