Got a new science report that seems a little too good to be true? It just might be. Here’s how you can sort fact from fiction in scientific studies:

  • Look up the study online and confirm that it exists. Then find out whether the study was published in an open-access journal. Open-access journals were first designed to help scientists get their research published more easily, since print journals are limited by space and budgets. The unfortunate outcome is the rise of the predatory scholarly open-access journal, through which researchers basically pay to have their work published as-is, with limited or no check on the rigor or accuracy of their work.
  • Check publication names against these lists, Beall's List and Who's Afraid of Peer Review, to get a sense of the legitimacy and vetting processes of a variety of journals.
  • Do an Internet search for the names of the authors and make sure they check out.
  • Consider something that can be deceptively easy to forget: Do the study findings really make sense?

A whole website, RetractionWatch, has been built to combat irresponsible research and publications. Look up journal and researcher names to see whether any research has been retracted and find out why.

Taken from Whose Truth? Tools for Smart Science Journalism in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Elissa Yancey at Poynter NewsU.

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