The good, the bad and the ugly science: examples from the marine science arena




Parsons, Edward C. M.
Wright, Andrew J.

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The terms “good science,” “bad science,” and especially “sound science” are frequently used in the policy arena. Most often, this is so parties with interests (usually economic) in the outcome of a political decision can promote certain results and attempt to discredit others. It has been argued that the terms “sound science” and “junk science” have been appropriated by various industries, such as the oil and gas industry and the tobacco industry. “Junk science” is the term used to tar scientific studies that disagree with positions favorable to the industry (Mooney, 2004, 2006; Oreskes and Conway, 2011; Macilwain, 2014). But can science actually be “good” or “bad”? Science is a process. It's the act of taking observations made in the natural world to test hypotheses, preferably in a rigorous, repeatable way. The tested hypotheses are then rejected if they fall short, rather than accepted if the data are compatible, and the results are ultimately critically reviewed by the scientific community. Concepts that work survive, whereas those that do not fit the observed data die off. Eventually, concepts that survive the frequent and repeated application of enormous amounts of observational data become scientific theory. Such theories become as close to scientific fact as is possible—nothing can be proved absolutely. This process holds for social science as much as for chemistry, physics or biology: it does not matter if the data come from surveys or observational data from humans. A study either follows this protocol or it does not. Put simply, it is science or it isn't science.



Science, Good science, Bad science, Junk science, Sound science, Policy making, Science communication


Parsons ECM and Wright AJ (2015) The good, the bad and the ugly science: examples from the marine science arena. Front. Mar. Sci. 2:33. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2015.00033