I can go onto the internet and find posts or reports or studies or statistics to support nearly anything I want. That makes it more and more challenging to sort through what’s accurate. Perhaps it’s just because this is where my interests lie, but I find it particularly true of the health and nutrition fields. These are complicated topics, and thus naturally there are conflicting views. Here are my tips for telling the difference between the sense and nonsense.
1. Look for the side with more experts.
Typically in an article a single expert will be interviewed on each side of an issue. This does not mean that these sides are equally important. One side will usually be more scientifically based and have a lot more expert supporters.
2. Read papers from well respected journals.
Read information directly from the researchers. When articles or posts link back to journals, go check them out. This is the only place to find information that has not been, intentionally or unintentionally, filtered through someone else’s agenda or bias. People can lie but data doesn’t.
3. Remember that anecdotes are not data.
Just because someone has benefited from one type of diet for example does not mean it is science. The most accurate research results are based off of studies including thousands of people and/or many years. Furthermore, repeating information does not make it true. This happens so much on the internet, but we cannot assume something is correct just because we’ve heard it over and over.
4. Be mindful of the difference between correlation and causation.
Correlation refers to events and statistics that appear to coincide. When this happens, the two events seem to be related, however, it is not an indicator of a cause and effect relationship. It is sometimes an indicator of where more research is necessary to determine what is the causation. Sometimes it’s completely unrelated.
5. Keep an open mind.
The study of health and nutrition is changing. As science and medicine advance, we continue to gain new information. When necessary, scientists change their minds to conform to the evidence. We need to as well.
I believe it all comes down to thinking critically. Don’t blindly accept what you hear as truth. Find the data, and put your mind to work.
Related: What’s All the Fuss About Gluten?
How do you think critically about confusing topics?