Publicizing Findings Outside the Journal System

Part of the Quack Science Syndrome is a reluctance to spell out the details of evidence supporting a claim in normal scientific journals. Instead, a quack scientist will seek publicity in a newspaper, magazine, or internet site.

Why are "quack science" ideas often announced in press conferences? What is peer review?

An article that makes extravagant claims without supporting evidence will not be published in a scientific journal. Most journals receive many more articles than they can publish, so they set up a screening system. Research articles in most highly regarded scholarly journals are put through a peer-review process.

In the peer review process, expert scientists—peers of the researchers who submitted the article—read an article before it is published and make a judgment about whether it merits publication. To be published, it must make some contribution to the field, and it must follow the usual rules of science: procedures must be spelled out and appropriate techniques used to analyze the results. If an article is promising but has problems, it is sent back to the author for revision. If it has severe flaws, or does not seem to make an important contribution to the field, it is rejected and not published. Sometimes a researcher is advised to submit it to another, less competitive or prestigious journal.

What is the difference between a "refereed" and "unrefereed" journal?

Some journals do not use the peer review system, but they still have a screening system of some kind. In these "unrefereed" journals the editor or editorial board, rather than a peer review committee, decides whether to publish an article. Usually these journals are not as prestigious as refereed journals because of the lack of peer review, but they still have standards that should prevent the publication of many "quack science" articles. For example, if an article makes wild claims without offering substantial supporting evidence, it is unlikely to be published in any reputable journal. As a result, quack science is often publicized outside the journal system. One must be suspicious of a miracle cure or scientific breakthrough that is announced in a newspaper or magazine article, advertisement, or local news.

What are good and bad sources for science information?

As a rule, the best sources for reliable information are scholarly journals. You can also find responsible science writing in popular but scholarly sources such as Scientific American <> and The New York Times <> and the APA's monthly newsmagazine, the APA Monitor <>. More speculative articles can be found in sources like New Scientist <> and Discover Magazine <>.

The internet, despite its usefulness for serious research, is full of quack science. That is perhaps inevitable. The internet is an open forum where anybody can put up a web page. Some of the information is of excellent quality; some is of very poor quality. When browsing the internet, one must definitely practice critical thinking skills and remain skeptical of claims which sound too good to be true.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey