Junk science is a derogatory term used to belittle
supposedly scientific research, analyses or claims. It is
usually driven by political or financial motives. There is
often no agreement as to which side of a debate constitutes
junk science and which sound science. Although, the scientific
community may have an overwhelming majority opinion.
Public debates on environmental and public health issues
seem particularly prone to this problem. These debates are
further complicated when proponents of junk science use mass
media to publicize outrageous claims or controversial research.
In the petfood industry, think about debates concerning GMOs,
BSE and animal rights.
In politics and advertising, the term astroturfing
negatively describes formal public relations projects which
deliberately seek to give the impression of spontaneous,
grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent
public reaction to a politician, political group, product,
service, event, etc., by centrally orchestrating the behavior
of many diverse and geographically-distributed individuals.
John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of PR Watch believe that
the term "junk science" is often used to deride scientific
findings which stand in the way of short-term corporate profit
maximization. In their book
Trust Us, We're Experts
(2001), they write that industry has launched
multi-million-dollar campaigns to position certain theories as
"junk science," often failing to employ the scientific method
themselves. For example, it is alleged that the tobacco
industry has used the term "junk science" to describe research
showing negative effects of smoking and second-hand smoke,
through various astroturf groups. More agreeable theories are
praised using the term "sound science."
Another example for discrediting disliked scientific
findings, is a campaign to "reposition global warming as
theory, not fact" that is described in detail by Stauber and
Rampton. Anti-global warming environmental scientists and
spokespersons for corporations and government bureaucracies
counter by saying that the scientific evidence used by their
critics actually constitutes junk science and should not be
used as a basis for policy (http://
The scientific method is fundamental to scientific
investigation and to the acquisition of new knowledge.
Scientists use observations and reasoning to propose
hypothesestentative explanations for natural phenomena.
Predictions from these hypotheses are tested by various
experiments, which should be reproducible. A hypothesis must be
falsifiable; in other words, it must be conceivable to prove
the hypothesis to be false. If a proposition is not
falsifiable, then it is not a hypothesis, and instead, an
opinion or statement not based upon the scientific method.
Once a hypothesis is repeatedly verified through experiment,
it is considered to be a theory and new predictions are based
upon it. Any erroneous predictions or unexplained phenomena,
initiate the generation of correction to hypotheses, which are
themselves tested, and so on. Any hypothesis which is strong
enough to make predictions can be tested in this way.