Can you spot a fake scientific study? A fake scientific study is often published to convince the public of biased or false facts. Sometimes, they are nothing more than a practical joke. Scientists, like the rest of us, have curious minds. Our curiosity can spark our minds into bizarre paths of discovery. Nothing, it seems, is too quirky for investigation. Hence, scientific investigations can range from the generally stereotypical inquiry into chemical reactions to the rather oddball examination of the facial recognition abilities of sheep.
Because many consider scientific studies the ultimate stamp of authority, we look to scientific studies for explanations of the world around us. But what if some of those too-whacky-to-be-true scientific studies were just that: fake? Sometimes it’s difficult to call, as the following examples prove:
- Flying Penguins?
Nothing grabs the absolute trust of the hopeful public like a popular science segment by the BBC. The BBC, as an April Fool’s joke in 2008, presented footage of a colony of flying penguins on King George Island near Antarctica. Turned out that the joke was on us! But, a large majority of the public believed it.
- Robotic Squirrels and their Effect on Rattlesnakes
Not many educated folks would be buying this scientific study as real. But those non-believers would be wrong. The scientific study conducted by the UC Davis labs in California entitled “Robotic squirrel models: Study of squirrel-rattlesnake interaction in laboratory and natural settings” is legitimate. .
Beautiful but dangerous Sirens of the seas – scientific research proving the existence of mermaids would be pretty cool. And it almost happened. Animal Planet’s utterly scientific approach in fake documentary style Mermaids: The Body Found had viewers convinced mermaids exist. Only in the fine print of the 1009 word synopsis did I find evidence of the fake scientific study, “This two-hour special is science fiction based on some real events and scientific theory.”
The above examples demonstrate using science to fool the masses is a cinch. But what is it that makes people so gullible? Rather than thinking of people as easily-fooled, I prefer to place emphasis on the innately human attribute of hopefulness. That sense of ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if…..’
My tips on how to spot a fake scientific study from a real one: Examine authorship; and, look for information about organizations that conducted the study. How was the study conducted? Ask who is financially backing the study, and what is their angle? It takes only one skeptical voice blow the lid on a fake scientific study. When I come across fake scientific studies – the ones offering no basis for their claims – I quickly dismiss their credibility, but admittedly, I may have even fallen prey to the BBC April Fool’s prank!
In our search for the truth, human beings will find ways to oust a fake. With the advent of the Internet and user-generated media, fake scientific studies are revealed for their biases rather quickly. As with the fake examples above, scientific studies that do not have foundations in truth are sometimes just jokes carried out in good faith, but other times fake scientific studies are used to convince you to buy. Buyer beware!
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