Although this column typically discusses books, a recent paper in Nature is important enough that we felt it worth discussing. Co-authored by William J Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A Burgman, Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims is an excellent commentary piece published in the November 21, 2013 issue.
The authors begin by pointing out that policymakers often do not have the opportunity to read scientific papers themselves; instead, they rely on interpretations of that science by those around them. However, a basic understanding of the “imperfect nature of science” would be an important skill for sorting through these third-party interpretations; therefore, the authors set out to “suggest 20 concepts that should be part of the education of civil servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists — and anyone else who may have to interact with science or scientists.” The result is a great introduction to evaluating scientific claims.
The concepts included in the list include paragraph-sized explanations related to statistical concepts such as variation and bias, scientific method such as sample size and controls and interpretive error.
The information can be accessed online or in PDF format.