This leaflet is for people who follow debates about science and medicine in the news. It explains how scientists present and judge re s e a rch and how you can ask questions of the scientific information presented to you.
•Science has a system for assessing the quality of research before
it is published. This system is called peer review.
•Peer review means that other scientific experts in the field
check research papers for validity, significance and originality –
and for clarity.
•Editors of scientific journals draw on a large pool of suitable
experts to scrutinise papers before deciding whether to publish
•Many of the research claims you read in newspapers and
magazines, find on the internet, or hear on television and the
radio are not published in a peer-reviewed journal.
•Some of this research may turn out to be good but much of it is
flawed or incomplete. Many reported findings, such as claims
about “wonder cures” and “new dangers”, never come to anything.
•Unpublished research is no help to anyone. Scientists can’t repeat
or use it and as a society we can’t base decisions about our public
safety – or our family’s health for example – on work that has a
high chance of being flawed.
•So, no matter how exciting or compelling new scientific or medical
research is, you must always ask…
Is it peer reviewed? If not, why not?
If it is peer reviewed, you can look for more information on what
other scientists say about it, the size and approach of the study and
whether it is part of a body of evidence pointing towards the same
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