10 Signs That Study Is Bogus

It Proves a Point (Follow the Money)
Beware the powerful bubblegum lobby. Who knows what sort of sway they have over gum researchers? belchonock/iStock/Thinkstock

One day you decide to try a new brand of chewing gum, but a short time after popping it in your mouth you break out in hives. In the emergency room the doctor tells you that blood tests reveal an allergy to some ingredient in the new chewing gum. But let's say you're weirdly stubborn, and let's say you really liked that gum, too. Oh, and you decide to visit nine more doctors.

Eight of nine of them agree with the first one. But one lone doctor says no, it's not the gum, it's just a coincidence. In fact, he thinks you might be allergic to chewing, or walking, or walking and chewing at the same time. You like his answer, and you like his fancy office, but you're starting to wonder how he paid for it.

When trying to figure out whether a study is bogus, some common sense is useful. If 99.9 percent of the experts in a given field say one thing and a handful of others disagree, have a look at where the skeptics' funding is coming from. In other words, follow the money.

Willie Soon is one of the handful of researchers who deny that human activity has anything to do with climate change. The fact that he works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics lends a degree of prestige to his opinions. However, the Center for Astrophysics has an arms-length relationship with Harvard, and researchers there are not on salary and receive no funds from the university.

In fact, it turns out that the bulk of Soon's funding has been coming from sources such as Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute, among others in the energy sector. In other words, the people paying for Soon's research are the very people who have the most invested in disproving human responsibility for climate change. While Soon insists the source of his funding has no bearing on his research, the optics aren't in his favor [source: Goldberg].