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Junk science is everywhere, and it takes many pernicious forms. There are the outright scams, of course, advertised by charlatans aiming to make a quick and easy buck. There are the malicious actors, trying to spread falsehoods and misinformation to score political or economic points instead of promoting honest scientific debate. And there are the lazy and flawed scientists themselves, trumpeting poorly-done, low-quality, and even outright sketchy work in a bid to get some media and public attention on themselves.

All of these manifestations have a common theme: they take the name of science and apply it to something that definitely does not adhere to any reasonable definition of the word or bear even the slightest resemblance to the proper practice of the discipline.

So, what to do about it? It obviously needs to be addressed and confronted, lest the problem grow out of control (if it isn't already out of control) and regain some semblance of legitimate scientific identity in the hearts and minds of the general public.

It's here, in the how rather than the why of combatting junk science, that two schools of thought emerge:

Method 1: Debunk, Full Blast 

There is bad, junky science, promoted by bad, junky people. They must be defeated. We must take their claims at face value and tear into them, exposing them for the frauds and deceits that they are. Who else is going to do it? Who else knows the scientific method or the facts or the data as well as scientists themselves?

The goal of such a debate wouldn't be to change the mind of our opponent - they likely aren't interested in having their mind changed anyway. But people can watch and listen to that debate. Maybe some of those people have an opinion on the subject, but not a strong one, and can be swayed with logic and reason. Most people probably haven't even thought about the issue at all, and this would be a golden opportunity to plant the right kind of seed at exactly the right time.

Failing the opportunity for a debate, we can at least provide resources. Videos, articles, podcasts, the works. Bring up dubious claims and bear the full weight of the evidence against them. Highlight examples of bad science so that people know what to look for in the future.

Method 2: Avoid, At All Costs

But even the mention of junk science gives their proponents credibility. After all, scientists debate each other all the time in open forums. Thus if a scientist is debating someone else, they must hold them as a peer, even a colleague. By giving them the air of legitimacy, we aren't helping ourselves, but them. Even if the debate is "lost" (whatever that means), they can then turn around to their followers and rightly claim that they went toe-to-toe with other scientists.

Secondly, is it a battle that we could ever hope to win? Junk scientists aren't playing by the same rules. If we come in blazing with the actual tools of the scientific trade - evidence, reason, and so on - would they even notice or care? If they have better rhetoric, or are better able to tap into the hearts of the audience, how could we possibly stand a chance?

And what would be the point of providing resources if they're never read or used by the people that need it most? Sure, fans of science would easily find the right article or video...but they're already convinced, aren't they?

Instead, it's best to avoid open confrontation. Instead, explain what science is and how science works, and let it be. Have confidence that the right information will get to the right people and let natural forces do their work. It's best not to...sully our hands, so to speak.

Method 3: All of the Above

Both approaches have merit. Both schools of thought make very valid points. Both techniques are right in their own ways and wrong in their own ways. In the end, we need to give people tools to decide between junk and valid science on their own. And since "people" is really a collection of billions of individuals, we can't make universal assumptions and apply universal techniques and hope it all works out in the end.

The struggle against junk science is much more personal than that; it can only be won through a single human being at a time.


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