How to Evaluate Scientific Claims & Arguments

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  • 0:02 What Is a Scientific Claim?
  • 1:21 Evaluating Scientific Claims
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

When you hear about the new scientific discovery, how can you be sure that it's true? Learn how to evaluate scientific claims and arguments, and then test your new skills with a quiz.

What Is a Scientific Claim?

What is a scientific claim? A scientific claim is a claim made by scientists. But that doesn't really answer the question, so let's break this down.

Science is the systematic study of the world around us through observation and experiment. Scientists collect data, analyze it, and make conclusions about how the world works. The idea of science is that it provides a consistent way to learn about the world, that helps avoid bias. Humans are very unreliable when it comes to interpreting what they see. Having a process to follow helps us make sure that our conclusions are accurate.

Generally, a scientific claim is one that is based on systematic observation and evidence. It's designed to be far more reliable than any other kind of claim you could make. But does that mean that every scientific claim is automatically true? Does it mean that you can always trust what a scientist tells you?

Unfortunately, not every scientific investigation is created equal. Some investigations are accurate and reliable; others have major flaws, making them no better than anecdotes and personal opinions. Figuring out the difference can be challenging. These are a few the things to look for when you're trying to evaluate a scientific claim and figure out whether or not it's trustworthy.

Evaluating Scientific Claims

There are several questions to ask when being faced with a scientific claim. Probably the first and most obvious question is: do other scientists agree? Does this claim fit with previous scientific studies, or does this one say something new or different? If the claim is the same one that most scientists have been making for a while, it's more likely that you don't need to worry. That doesn't mean that it's definitely right - nothing in science is ever completely certain, only very likely based on the data. But, it might mean it's not worth the time to analyze really carefully.

On the other hand, if a claim is new or somehow special or different, it's important to evaluate it more carefully. Here are a few questions you can ask to figure out the reliability of a claim:

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