Where Science and Faith Converge

Ducking Tabloid Science

By Krista Bontrager - November 1, 2012

Highlighting new discoveries and how they provide new evidence for the God of the Bible marks one of the distinctive features of RTB’s approach to scientific research. Our scholar team works diligently to discern whether a finding is adequately supported by sound research before they report on it. Dr. Fazale Rana’s article Did Humans and Neanderthals Interbreed? offers a cautionary tale about the perils of getting on a breakthrough bandwagon too quickly.

Science offers a powerful tool to discover truth about God’s creation—but it can also be misreported. It’s critically important that Christians guard themselves from falling prey to false claims, especially when dispensing information through social media. The next time you hear about an exciting scientific claim, here are some helpful guidelines to keep in mind.

Credentials: Who is the main scholar(s) behind the discovery? What are his/her credentials (academic, professional, publishing)?

A credible discovery should be backed by one or more scholars with relevant expertise. If the main person promoting a discovery is a filmmaker or self-taught amateur, it’s time for a healthy dose of skepticism.

Publication: Where was the research published?

The normal path for announcing a new discovery is through publication in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. Generally, reports of scientific discoveries on popular news websites or through video documentaries without documentation are red flags, signifying that the work hasn’t been adequately reviewed.

Verification: Have other scientists corroborated the research?

Authenticating the accuracy of high-level scientific research is often difficult without a relevant PhD. But doing so is crucial, especially when researchers claim “breakthrough” results or when one study shows an isolated outcome. If the discovery has validity, more research will be forthcoming to confirm or deny the original team’s findings. That’s the scientific process at work, but it takes time. RTB’s Science News Flash podcast can be a helpful resource, offering summaries of, and careful commentary about, new discoveries.

Origin: What’s the source of the story?

Most people get their science news from mainstream outlets like Yahoo! or Fox News. The popular press frequently emphasizes the research’s most sensational aspect, and headlines often deliver a sketchy summary of the actual study.

The real research was likely completed months before the publication of the news release. It’s a good practice to track down the original journal article (often linked in the news article) and read the abstract. It provides a short summary of the research and will help you gauge how much of the news article may be an exaggeration and how much reflects the actual research.

We live in exciting times and there is much more to be discovered. Even so, it isn’t easy to differentiate good science from unproven, and even junk, science. Dr. Rana’s cautious approach to the human-Neanderthal interbreeding research provides a helpful and important example of how not to be charmed into blind acceptance by a sensational science news story.

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