How can you tell if evidence is actually evidence?

So I’ve been chatting with a few people, and debating a few issues. The specifics of the debates are not relevant, but I have come to realise how difficult it can be for people to know whether what they are reading or citing is actually evidence or just opinion. I think this stems from a general lack of understanding of science, the scientific process, peer review and critical thinking in general. My observations, based on science, have been countered with comments such as ‘for as many sources as you can find that say one thing, I can find an equal number that say the opposite’. But the point that is being spectacularly missed in this argument that “someone saying something” and “evidence” are not the same thing. And it’s not always easy to differentiate between the two, even when you have specifically been trained to do so.

So I wanted to share a few things I found that I think might be helpful:

Firstly, my new favourite organisation, Sense about Science have a whole series of very excellent publications that cover a diverse range of topics, from Making Sense of Statistics, interpreting the quality of evidence and the peer review process, to more specific guides to things like what is currently known about GM foods, climate change, the Detox myth and many, many more!

I also found this awesome flowchart (credit goes to Margaret Hagan), which, as well as being pretty, helps to guide you through the types of questions you might want to ask before accepting something as evidence (although admittedly it was designed for law and not science, but basically the same rules apply. And did I mention, it’s pretty).

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