How do you tell the difference between good science and bad?

Researcher working in lab
In this 2012 file photo, a researcher works in a laboratory of the French biopharmaceutical company Genfit.

Red wine will help you live longer - or maybe it won't. Is coffee good for you? Maybe. How do you know which studies to trust?

The misinterpretation of scientific research is all too common. Even people who bill themselves as experts may not be presenting the best information.

According to science journalist Julia Belluz and global health researcher Steven J. Hoffman, board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz is not helping further the public's understanding of what research is trustworthy. In fact, they say he's talked about a number of "breakthrough" or "miracle" supplements that can help people lose weight or improve their health - but there is no research to back up his claims.

In an article for Slate, "Dr. Oz's Miraculous Medical Advice," Belluz and Hoffman wrote about how to tell the good science from the bad:

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We can also arm ourselves with the knowledge that not all evidence is created equally, and celebrities--even famous doctors--are not credible sources of health information.

Some other rules for sifting nuggets of good evidence from gobbledygook include: Research involving humans is typically more relevant than animal models; prospective, randomized, controlled trials are usually better than retrospective, observational analyses; large studies are better than small studies; multisite studies are better than single-site; and systematic syntheses of all the available evidence are more informative than individual studies presented out of context. Our own doctors will probably know more about what's good for us than our favorite celebrities, their doctors, or even America's doctor, the wonderful wizard that is Oz.

Belluz and Hoffman join the Daily Circuit Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 to talk about how to sift through the claims and find the facts.


The dangers of cherry-picking evidence (Ben Goldacre in The Guardian)

Battling bad science (Ben Goldacre TED Talk)

How reading about coffee may harm your health* (Julia Belluz on Science-ish)

When it comes to bogus health reporting and policy, it really is a small world (Julia Belluz on Science-ish)