You might have seen headlines around the web today about how Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. Slashdot has this to say:
Here’s how the experiment, which has not been peer reviewed and has not been presented yet, went down. Mice were placed in a maze, with one end holding an Oreo and the other end holding a rice cake. The mice, without fail, decided to eat the Oreo over the rice cake, proving once and for all that mice like cookies better than tasteless discs with a styrofoamy texture.
This is why, when you read that study A shows B or that survey X says Y, you should always take that with a few grains, or perhaps truckloads, of salt. Many studies are poorly conducted, which you won’t find out if you don’t look more closely than the popular press does. And then, the popular press always likes to put the most sensational spin on things, even if the study’s author wouldn’t go so far.
They say, “Question authority,” but it’s a fascinating thing: we usually only question the authorities we find threatening, and give the most credence to authorities we don’t know at all. Odd.
This is not to say that all such studies are hooey. It’s just to say than unless you go look, you don’t know. And sometimes, even if you go look you still don’t know.