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Thread: Where You Should not Look for Information.

  1. #1 Where You Should not Look for Information. 
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    Where You Should Not Look for Information
    (Comments and/or questions about this thread? Send me a PM.)

    Introduction:


    Every once in a while, we receive alternative (or downright crazy) ideas, which are mostly unsubstantiated.
    Yet, it occurs sometimes that members provide links to journals and websites, which are, regardless of the intention of the poster, illegitimate.
    The untrained eye might be tricked by its content, thus fooling the individual in question.

    There are two ways one could be fooled, by bogus journals and personal websites. I will summarize their characteristics and name some flaws.

    Genuine journals distinguish themselves from bogus/crank journals by four aspects:

    1. It employs proper peer-review (papers are checked by experts in the same field to make sure it meets necessary standards before it is accepted).
    2. It is listed in an official database (e.g. MEDLINE, ScienceDirect, JSTOR, etc.).
    3. It is published by a proper publishing group (e.g. Nature Publishing Group, PLoS, Elsevier, etc.)
    4. It has a proper impact factor (a number that indicates the importance of a journal within a certain field).

    Although alternative journals might claim that they employ peer-review, that does not imply that it is of good quality, let alone actually used.

    Of course, reading peer-reviewed papers is not piece of cake and non-scientists might prefer pop-sci articles over those complex articles.
    Nonetheless, there is no need to worry, since I provided a method in another
    thread that allows you to understand the full scope and content of any paper, after a bit of exercise. Feel free to consult it at any time.

    The validity of websites cannot be judged by the same standards as scientific journals, but you can find more information about judging its content and recognizing pseudoscience in section III.



    I. Physics & Cosmology:

    If you scroll through the Pseudoscience or Physics sub-forum, you will eventually encounter viXra. viXra is an e-archive and the "evil twin" of arXiv.
    It is the place for alternative physics, mathematics and cosmology (e.g.
    push gravity, SR-denial, (a)ether theories, etc.),
    although viXra does not shun other categories, such as the humanities and life sciences.

    According to the
    website (bold mine):
    It has been founded by scientists who find they are unable to submit their articles to arXiv.org because of Cornell University's policy of endorsements and moderation designed to filter out e-prints that they consider inappropriate. (...) It does not endorse e-prints accepted on its website, neither does it review them against criteria such as correctness or author's credentials.
    In essence (cf.
    #56):
    Quote Originally Posted by tk421
    Please avoid everything from vixra in particular. That site is a dumping ground for junk papers. There could be some gems in there, but they're rare. Your credibility only plummets when you cite trash like that, you should know.[sic]
    Of course, there are other, less known bogus journals for fringe ideas, such as the Journal of Cosmology (not a peer-reviewed journal and has a habit of publishing questionable claims (cf.
    #81)) and the Journal of Nuclear Physics (cf. #72 and #125).


    Apart from these journals, there is a vast number of websites that specialize in alternative physics ideas (cf.
    Crank Dot Net). One of the more recurrent physics ideas, is the concept of perpetual motion. Perpetual motion is described in several threads via YouTube videos, often accompanied by members 'having a patent', or asking 'support' (i.e. money), or using bogus journals and/or viXra, or babbling about pendulums and magnets, and using typical crank catchphrases.

    If the same idea manifests itself in several threads, regardless of the number of refutations it has received over the years,
    it is an indicator of the idea being nonsense (this applies to astrology, homeopathy, geocentrism, phlogiston, (a)ether, etc.).



    II. Health:

    This section introduces us to the second part of this list, namely the journals that cover alternative medicine. Despite the fact that we receive more fringe ideas concerning cosmology and physics on the Science Forum, we must not underestimate the impact of alternative medicine.

    As an example: LifeWave. Although it is not a journal, it promotes alternative health ideas, ranging from energy fields to acupressure/acupuncture.
    Dr. Steve Haltiwanger (cf.
    #9) is the inventor of the so-called LifeWave patches:
    LifeWave patches are an advanced form of homeopathy. The patches contain homeopathic materials, that when stimulated by body heat, reflect low levels of light in the infrared and visible band. (...) When placed on the body like a band-aid, the patches stimulate nerves and points on the skin to produce health benefits not obtainable with any other product on the market today.
    Although the list of scientific articles that backs up their claims looks impressive, a closer inspection reveals questionable journals.
    Examples are the International Journal of Healing and Caring (
    IJHC), the Holistic Health Care and Research Journal (JHH) and the Journal of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA); journals that focus on holistic medicine, which includes i.a. nutritional medicine and homeopathy.

    Many forms of alternative medicine have their own journals (a complete list can be found on
    QuackWatch):
    An example is the Pacific Journal of Energy Medicine (
    PJEM), which is:
    an open-access, peer-reviewed, and online publication that promotes advances in Homeopathy, Electro-acupuncture according to Voll (EAV), Oriental Medicine, and other several energy-based healthcare disciplines.

    Trusting the wrong sources, especially when looking up information about medicine or health, can lead to detrimental consequences!
    This is the most honest advice I can give to you: "Be skeptical. Be safe."


    Last edited by Cogito Ergo Sum; September 26th, 2014 at 03:29 PM.
    RamenNoodles and dan hunter like this.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    III. Paranormal:

    The Synchronized Universe has published many fringe ideas (cf. #11) of Claude Swanson.
    The website is based upon his book The Synchronized Universe: New Science of the Paranormal (2003), which "summarizes the best evidence for many kinds of paranormal phenomena. In many cases these strange forces have been demonstrated under rigorous scientific statistics, with odds of millions or even billions to one against chance". Chances are, if you want to prove ESP, telekinesis or other, similar things, you will find it there.

    Another journal that focuses on fringe science, is the Journal of Scientific Exploration. Despite its claim that it is neutral and objective journal, there is sufficient evidence that it has no interest in the advancement of human knowledge (cf. #10).


    IV. Predatory Open-Access Journals:

    Predatory open-access journals
    are scam journals; they are bogus but the people behind the journals are aware of this.
    Papers are flawed (cf.
    #7, #20 and #34) due to the lack of (proper) peer-review and as such should not be taken seriously.
    However, there are lists of
    publishers and stand-alone journals that should not be consulted at any time, compiled by Jeffrey Beall.

    An easy way to check the validity of a journal, is by checking its impact factor. As noted above, an impact factor (IF) tells how important a certain journal is within its respective field. The higher the number, the more 'weight' it has. Journals such as Nature, Cell, Physics Review Letters, The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Chemical Society have a high impact and papers published in them are generally considered to be of high quality.
    You can look up the numbers of all the journals here:
    SJR: Journal Rankings.

    Predatory journals do not have impact factors, as their articles are never cited by other, proper articles (although their articles appear in Google Scholar).
    Nonetheless, fake IFs are often provided by questionable companies. Here is a full list:
    SOA: Misleading Metrics.
    However, the impact factor is a detail that does not have to be checked immediately if the journal appears in the links mentioned above.

    Last, but not least, here are examples of posters trying to promote predatory open-access journals:
    Free Online Academic Journals
    International Journal of Academic Research
    STM Journals


    V. "How and Where Should I Look for Information?":

    The majority of the people use Google to look up information. It does a great job of providing information, but given the ever-increasing amount of information, you can get lost along the way. However, you can use specific operators to narrow down the results.

    Suppose that someone posts this claim without an URL: "The Daily Mail warned people about a link between the MMR vaccines and autism".
    We are not interested in the validity of this claim, but whether or not we can track down the source. How do we do that?

    • First, we are only interested in the website The Daily Mail, thus we type in the Google search bar: site: daily mail.co.uk.
    • We also know that the hysteria is related to a fraudulent paper of Wakefield, thus "Wakefield" is a related term: ~Wakefield.
    • Next, the MMR vaccine is a key term in the claim, which must be written between quotation marks. Therefore, we type:"MMR vaccine".
    • We are not interested in anti-vaccination websites (e.g. vactruth), so we exclude them by adding a hyphen: -vactruth.
    • And rather than skimming all the news articles published by The Daily Mail, we limit our search to a time period: 1999..2006.

    Together, this is the search term: site: daily mail.co.uk ~Wakefield "MMR vaccine" -vactruth 1999..2006, which yields this article from 2006.

    There are other Google tricks you can use to narrow down your results. Feel free to try them out when a suspicious claim is posted.


    At the end of this list, you might be wondering where one should look for trustworthy information.
    Fortunately, member SkinWalker compiled a long list of useful websites where you can access trustworthy and scientific information (cf.
    #2 and #4).

    Of course, you must always remain skeptical of every source. Academic journals, encyclopedias and other informative websites are subject to errors.
    If you find yourself on a new website, and you are not sure of its validity, use this
    woo-spotting list and these criteria to determine it.


    "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool."
    ~ Richard Feynman, "Cargo Cult Science", adapted from a Caltech commencement address (1974).



    Acknowledgements: I wish to thank all the members who have provided helpful input in the threads and posts mentioned in this list;
    especially members billvon (for his woo-spotting list) and exchemist (for his input for the fourth section).


    Last edited by Cogito Ergo Sum; October 5th, 2014 at 03:41 PM.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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