Twenty Tips For Interpreting Scientific Claims

A useful list of 20 concepts to help decision-makers parse how evidence can contribute to a decision, and potentially avoid undue influence by those with vested interests.


Calls for the closer integration of science in political decision-making have been commonplace for decades. However, there are serious problems in the application of science to policy — from energy to health and environment to education […] We suggest that the immediate priority is to improve policy-makers’ understanding of the imperfect nature of science. The essential skills are to be able to intelligently interrogate experts and advisers, and to understand the quality, limitations and biases of evidence. We term these interpretive scientific skills. These skills are more accessible than those required to understand the fundamental science itself, and can form part of the broad skill set of most politicians […] The harder part — the social acceptability of different policies — remains in the hands of politicians and the broader political process.


  1. Differences and chance cause variation
  2. No measurement is exact
  3. Bias is rife
  4. Bigger is usually better for sample size
  5. Correlation does not imply causation
  6. Regression to the mean can mislead
  7. Extrapolating beyond the data is risky
  8. Beware the base-rate fallacy
  9. Controls are important
  10. Randomization avoids bias
  11. Seek replication, not pseudoreplication
  12. Scientists are human
  13. Significance is significant
  14. Separate no effect from non-significance
  15. Effect size matters
  16. Study relevance limits generalizations
  17. Feelings influence risk perception
  18. Dependencies change the risks
  19. Data can be dredged or cherry picked
  20. Extreme measurements may mislead

See details here.