Can You Believe It?

7. Who cares?

There are always people interested in the outcome of scientific research—other researchers within and outside the field, funders, special-interest groups, manufacturers, and anyone else who needs the information to make personal or policy decisions.

All research happens in a social context, and that context can be at least as important as the claim itself. Bias and predispositions can affect whether research happens at all, whether and how the results are made public and, most importantly, how results are “spun” and interpreted both inside and outside the scientific community.

Who supports the claim, and who doesn't? What are their biases? Who funded the research? Why? Be extra wary of research that was either funded or conducted by a party with something to gain.

Finally, keep in mind the hype factor. Big news sells, and science stories are easy prey for people looking to make mountains out of molehills. Never take headlines or sound bites at face value. There's almost always more to the story.