Bananas make you gain weight faster! Mice who were given Advil burn twice as many calories! If you're wondering whether news sites and social media are just messing with you, anyone can head to the scientific paper at the heart of a headline and evaluate them on four criteria.
Photo by Nic's events (Flickr).
Wired Science gives us four things to look at in determining if a scientific report has been woefully overblown or repurposed by the media. Causation and correlation, the "true size of the effect" and statistical power are among them:
Look at two key factors, the n and the p. The n is the number of subjects used in the study. Multifaceted experiments typically have fewer subjects than simple surveys. Genetics studies need a big n. The p value lets you know whether the result is "statistically significant"-it's the probability of something occurring by chance alone. You want to see a p of less than 0.05. (Results can be statistically significant and still only show correlation, or have confounding factors.)
Time and patience are always required in reading and evaluating, but for a quick glance at what you need to know (or not care about), Wired's checklist seems quite apt.
Learn to Read a Scientific Report [Wired Science]