Deciding whom to listen to on any issue can be a difficult task. Add personal bias into the mix, and it can become downright impossible. This is especially true for issues such as global climate change, and evolution, where, on the surface at least, there appears to be scientists on both sides of the “debate.”
However, armed with the right tools, you should be able to play a little game I like to call “vet the scientist.” This article will hopefully help you figure out once and for all which camp has the facts on their side, and which have stacked their deck with “scienticians” and clever-sounding people in rented lab-coats.
According to Jim Hare there are several good ways to tell the difference between real scientists and “charlatans” playing dress up. One of the best ways is to ask them about the uncertainties in their theories.
“Any [good] scientists will express uncertainties,” says Hare. “It is simple arrogance to assume we have all the answers.”
Another way to figure out if someone is worth your attention is to simply look him or her up with Google scholar. A scientist with a well thought out and supported opinion will have published papers recently and in well-respected journals on the subject that they claim to be an “expert” on. Simply go to Scholar.google.ca, and type in the name of the individual in question.
If their last publication was from 1974, on geese migration in Alberta, and they are trying to tell you that climate change is a hoax, perhaps you should question how they know this.
You can even go one further by looking at the impact of the journal the “scientist” in question has published in. Although this is a little bit more difficult.
Head to Umanitoba.ca/libraries and click on the “E-journals” link. Once that page has loaded click on “E-Journals A-Z.” You will be presented with a page that has the alphabet on it. Click on the “J” and look for “Journal Citation Reports.” When found, click on the link. This will take you to the ISS web of knowledge page. At the top of the page will be a series of yellow tabs; click on the one that says “additional resources.”
You should now see a link for the Journal Citation Reports, which collects and publishes data on the number of times a journal is cited. The more a journal is cited, the more important it is seen as being in the scientific community. For example, the journal Nature, a very well respected and diverse journal scores a 31 on the Journal Citation Report’s scale of impact, while the Norwegian Journal of Geology — a more specific and regional journal — scores a 0.55.
So hopefully, next time someone says, “Trust me, I’m a scientist,” instead of being struck with wordless awe, you will think fast and ask, “Are you ever wrong, and where were you published last?”