Came across a Scientific American blog post today that reminded me of the fact that so many people, and particularly media outlets, will view any statement in the primary scientific literature as fact. There is only one way to evaluate research in the primary literature, and that is to read the actual research study critically, not just cite the conclusions of the researchers or, worse yet, a media report on the results of the research. When I was in a Ph.D. program in biochemistry, we had one class where all we did was read critically what was in the primary literature. The professor would bring in the current issue of Cell, or whatever journal, and we'd go through the reports one by one. Many times, the researchers conclusions were over-stated or not supporting by the evidence they were reporting. Not a majority of the time - most of the articles were pretty solid - but often enough that it taught me to never accept something in the primary literature at face value. The SciAm blog post is here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/11/02/a-dig-through-old-files-reminds-me-why-im-so-critical-of-science/ The guy is writing about his personal experience as a science journalist. He links to a fairly well-known essay in PLOS Medicine by Ioannidis, where the author makes some rather bold claims, the sentence that received the most attention being "It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false." Ioannidis was interviewed by Scientific American and elaborated by saying "False positives and exaggerated results in peer-reviewed scientific studies have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. The problem is rampant in economics, the social sciences and even the natural sciences, but it is particularly egregious in biomedicine." The Ioannidis report is here: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124 I'm not prepared to accept the extent of the author's conclusions, but anyone who has read through the primary literature themselves (or at least done so critically) knows that there are plenty of cases where the reported results are questionable. People who have a dislike or distrust of science will take these links to mean we should discard science (or at least discard science they don't like, personally), but I don't think that's the point in either case. The point is we should think critically about these things, and not just accept something because it is reported in the literature. In fact, even when there is a "scientific consensus," we shouldn't just accept it blindly. The history of science is full of examples where the scientific consensus turned out to be wrong (and in some cases the consensus was very strong indeed, to the point it had become dogma but was still ultimately proven wrong). The reason something false becomes dogma or consensus is often that scientists stop looking at or questioning the basic assumptions of their work. They're already down the road a bit, and their results are being interpreted in light of the accepted dogma that everyone knows is true. Sometimes, too, it is because the prominent voices in the scientific establishment have built careers on a certain viewpoint, staked reputations on it, and aren't going to budge even in the face of new evidence (see Clovis first, for example). The strong point of science is that it looks to get these things largely right - ultimately. Sometimes it can take a while, but ultimately, despite the false direction, steps backwards, biases, institutionalized dogma, and so on, science progresses overall in the right direction. But don't let someone toss a news report at you, or link you to what the NY Times says about a research study, or even be taken in by the conclusions section of a reference in the primary scientific literature, without thinking about what the scientists actually did, what their results were, and deciding for yourself whether the conclusions are warranted.