Articles with the title “The Science Behind…” are bullshit

There is a hackneyed title that we are all intimate with. It’s headline screams at you from your Facebook timeline: “THE SCIENCE BEHIND [insert silly article idea here]!”. This tired and played out formula may seem innocuous but it often conceals a detrimental misunderstanding of science.

Not only are articles entitled “The Science Behind…” unimaginative, they often use science to justify something completely unscientific. When you picture this title in your mind, all you can see is a massive, bare bum taking a big old clickbait shit on science.

Are you really going to tell us that science has cracked open the mysteries of a happy relationship? Can we truly claim to know how dogs see the world? Did the author really call up a professor of chemistry to ask him why we like to dip our french fries in Wendy’s milkshakes?

There is a reason these articles are so prolific. They work. We like to read them. We like to imagine that science has some secret to our many unanswerable questions.

The problem is, instead of regarding studies within their scientific context, we read and interpret these results as stand alone facts. We do not regard the findings as a steady progression towards scientific understanding. Instead, we buy the bullshit. Hook, line and sinker.

We must remember that science is continuously building on itself; hypotheses are regularly updated, altered or dismissed. Yet, too often, science articles fail to place recent discoveries within their context. Instead of an article saying “Science suggests…”, the headline too often reads “Science proves…”

Did that study actually prove how dogs think or did it merely add to our understanding of the canine worldview? Did that study find out exactly why we procrastinate or did it shed a light on an aspect of human behaviour?

Too often these articles, that proclaim to know so much, mislead us into believing an idea because it is backed by science. Yet when you really take a closer look, the article is based on junk science.

You may be thinking, “Oh, but it’s obvious what the headline was implying”.

A study by the Media Insight Project illustrates why you should never, ever underestimate the power of a misleading headline. The study found that six out of ten people admit that they have done no more than read a news headline in the past week. If the headline is all that you have, how can you possibly understand the scientific concepts under question?

A sound and intelligent science article will provide you with context and the answers to the right questions: “What are the implications of this study, if any?”; “Do the results conflict with other papers in this field, and why might that be?”; “Is this study conclusive or do we need more research?”.

If the article does not do this, it is vital for you to ask yourself the following four questions:

Is it testable?

When reading an article about science, we must consider whether the hypothesis is able to be tested using the scientific method and the technology available to us today. For instance, an article entitled “The Science Behind a Happy Relationship” should immediately make you question whether we have the scientific tools to prove this.

Is it falsifiable?

If an article claims that a flying spaghetti monster created our universe, we need to ask ourselves, “Can science disprove this?”. If the answer is “no” then you should move right along.

Is it peer-reviewed?

It’s important to find out what other scientists are saying about the study that you have just read about. Has it been met with criticism by the scientific community? What are the limitations of the study, according to other scientists? If the article doesn’t answer these questions for you, you should be extremely skeptical.

Is it replicable?

Many articles entitled “The Science Behind…” rely on psychological studies. The problem here is that many of these studies are not replicable. An initiative called the Reproducibility Project, repeated 100 published psychological experiments. They managed to replicate only a third of them. Make sure you investigate whether the shit you are reading about has been replicated.

Knowing how to read science articles is imperative. We live in a time where alternative facts are a thing; a time where personal beliefs seem to matter more than reality. Not only are people dismissing science in preference for a more easily-swallowed truth, they are fundamentally misunderstanding it.

So the next time you feel compelled to click on an article claiming to know the science behind some unknowable concept. Stop. Think. Go ahead, click on it. Just make sure you ask the important questions, and sprinkle a grain of salt on top of that bullshit.

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