5 Tips for Science-Based Resolutions

If you’re like the 41 percent of Americans resolving to “live a healthier lifestyle” in the new year, your calorie-burning, “clean eating” options are vast.

And if you’re like the 92 percent of us who fail to achieve those resolutions, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the data behind many of today’s latest health and nutrition claims are just as fake as the news that flooded our social feeds this year.

In order to craft better resolutions this New Year, here are 5 tips to identify faux health claims:

  1. Absolute claims: When you read “X causes Y,” you may want to take a closer look behind the curtain. The scientific method, the gold standard of good science, deals more in disproving the false rather than proving the true. From a PR perspective, the scientific method doesn’t make for flashy headlines. Results are incremental and restrained, so it’s certainly tempting for reporters and advocacy organizations to jazz up the latest publication with wild claims of certainty. So when a single study fuels headlines claiming “meat causes cancer” or “baby toys cause autism,” be wary of exaggeration and the underlying motive of the agency, author, or organization which provided the language to media outlets in the first place.
  2. Ease of purchase: Imagine immediately after reading about the benefits of amino acid supplements that you found a conveniently located link to purchase a year’s supply! With advertisements becoming more difficult to differentiate from legitimate, unbiased sources of information, the promotion of a particular product in tandem with awe-inspiring health and cosmetic benefits is a pretty good indicator of pseudoscience.
  3. Secret formulas: Articles claiming a particular remedy is something your doctor “doesn’t want you to know” not only scream “fake news,” but also contribute to the degradation of trust between the public and their medical professionals. Although the Internet can connect us with a wealth of novel information, we should recognize that our physicians didn’t complete 11 years of higher education and on-the-job training (at minimum) in order to withhold information about your well-being.
  4. Independent discoveries: While the process of collecting data, analyzing and interpreting it accurately, and submitting it to other learned professionals can be a tedious process which takes years to complete, “peer review,” aids in weeding out poorly designed or heavily biased studies. Certainly, the system isn’t infallible. But you can be almost certain that research which wasn’t subjected to the review process at all probably contains flaws serious enough to cast doubt on its results.
  5. Appeal to emotion: Not to imply that science is boring (quite the contrary – browse through Scientific American for some great articles on science and society), but it is impartial. It’s important to remember that when you see exclamations about the newest discovery!or articles warning of your impending death unless you stop eating or drinking something right this minute, the original data may have been lost in translation (or worse, purposefully twisted).