Green Watch

Three Tells of Junk Science

Science is held in extremely high regard in the modern world—and rightly so. Science and its applications can claim a lengthy and growing list of accomplishments from vaccines against deadly diseases to landing men on the Moon to mapping the human genome to spitting the atom.

But with such great power and credibility also comes the very human temptation to manipulate science to serve less noble purposes. Politicians, members of the media, and even scientists themselves have often succumbed to this temptation out of ignorance, greed, or desire for power. Lord Acton’s axiom—“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”—certainly applies to science and the people who try to use it.

Many of the most egregious misuses of science are fairly identified as “junk science,” broadly defined as “science or scientific results of a fraudulent or misleading nature.”

Fortunately, some key words and phrases are red flags or tells of junk science.


Science deals in finding the best explanations of the world around us, not certainty. Thus, one key principle of science is that every scientific hypothesis (and theory) must be falsifiable. Meaning every scientific hypothesis is subject to unending testing that has the potential at any time to falsify or disprove the hypothesis. In other words, if something is not falsifiable (subject to continuous testing), it is not science.

Hence, anyone talking about “settled science” either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, misspoke, or is deliberately trying to deceive.

An NPR article illustrates this point by starting with the assumption that “climate change” is “settled science.” While “climate change” is an admittedly slippery term, “settled science” is an outright oxymoron. If it’s settled, it’s not science. If it’s science, it’s not settled.

Predictably, the NPR article follows its “settled science” claim with public opinion polling data and political rhetoric, not logical argument grounded in observational data. Yet the NPR author deserves credit for clearly stating his key assumption—flawed as it is.


In science, observational data reign supreme. Science is an absolute dictatorship of data. If the data support a hypothesis, it survives to live another day. If the data do not support the hypothesis, the hypothesis is added to the ever-growing mountain of rejected hypotheses.

Science is not democratic. The scientists, other observers, and the general public don’t get a vote. Actual science doesn’t care about feelings, opinions, political policies, careers, or any number of other human concerns. To the extent that any of these usurp the data, the “science” ceases to be science.

For example, NASA’s “Global Climate Change” website repeats the often-cited deceptive claim that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. Instead of appealing to the data, NASA tried appealing to the “authority” of the 97 percent.

Ironically, on a different website, NASA emphasizes the primacy of “scientific evidence” over “opinion”—albeit in an article on the scientific consensus on global warming.

“Scientific Study”

Nearly every day the media breathlessly touts “new research” on a wide range of topics ranging from a drug to treat opioid addition to a promising cancer treatment to why humans don’t have tails. Driven by the relentless 24-hour news cycle, the media are always looking for something new, and quality and thoughtful analysis are often discarded as irrelevant inconveniences.

While scientific studies are essential to scientific research, a single study by itself is far from definitive, and not all scientific studies are created equal. The findings of a single study need to be tested and retested, no matter how promising they seem. In fact, the most promising findings probably need more rigorous testing to ensure that a bias toward a desired outcome did not influence the research.

In addition, the more a study or report is entangled with politics and government funding, the less scientific and less reliable its results will likely be. I have personally witnessed how a government report was vetted by the various offices in a federal department and offending passages were removed or rewritten so as to not cast a particular federal office in a bad light—usually not to correct any inaccuracy in the report, but to obscure inconvenient data and conclusions.

Similarly, does anyone seriously expect a report from the U.S. Department of Education to ever reach a conclusion not supported by the teachers unions? Or what is the probability that a climate scientist funded with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will publish a result that directly challenges the official narrative on climate change?

A single study is never the final word on a subject because of both potential (even unintentional) bias and the scientific requirement for replicability.

The Scientific Method

Regrettably, many—especially members of the legacy media—have forgotten or chosen to ignore key principles of the scientific method. Consistently applying such basic principles would quickly expose many instances of junk or flawed science.

Jon Rodeback

As managing editor and director of content, Jon is responsible for CRC’s print and online publications, including the monthly magazine Capital Research. Before joining CRC, he was the senior…
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