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How to Tell Science from Pseudoscience

By Popular Science

October 18, 2021

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In our increasingly chaotic digital age, disinformation disguised as science is rampant. It's also getting harder to detect, thanks to new technologies and politically motivated campaigns against commonly acknowledged scientific truths like vaccine effectiveness, the realities of the climate crisis, and more. Navigating the turbulent sea of online scientific and pseudoscientific information requires a sharp eye, a skeptical brain, and an openness to new ideas about the world around us.

Your first exposure to any pseudoscientific claim will almost certainly come in the form of a catchy headline—perhaps a little too catchy. John Gregory, a researcher for the online fact-checking service NewsGuard, warns that fully capitalized words, exclamation points, or strong opinions in the headline of an article are some of the first signs that its contents may be misleading.

"One of the dead giveaways is the use of really emotional language," he says, adding that the key difference between a factual and misleading story is what evidence its authors use to back up the headline's claim. This means that your best defense against being duped is to click the link and actually read the article, rather than taking the headline at face value. It's often difficult for journalists to convey nuance and uncertainty in headlines that are meant to be catchy and brief. The best way to tell whether a headline is accurate, misleading, or downright false is to see for yourself what the article has to say.

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