As a science-enthusiast, non-scientist, one of the main skills I need to develop (and one of the main areas in which I'm likely to be deficient) is telling good science from bad. The way these things are sorted out in the scientific community are complicated, and without years of training and experience, it's hard to tell whether a claim does or doesn't have the right ingredients. Fortunately, there are guides out there, to help people like me. Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer has the Baloney Detection Kit, a video explaining many of the ways you can find hints towards the credibility of the claim. Now, at Boing Boing, science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker offers Crackpots, Geniuses, and how to tell the difference.
The article provides a lot of good hints, but this is my favorite one:
1) If it makes a really nice story, ask for the details. (Good science usually makes a bigger deal out of the evidence than it makes out of the story. In fact, that's actually a problem many legit scientists have—they're better at talking about the details and data then they are at telling stories. But most of us respond to stories better than we respond to details and data.)
She's right -- people are naturally inclined to believe stories, but that just isn't how science works. Science is, in fact, somewhat inherently anti-story, or, at least, anti-good-story. Pleasing stories have suspense, tension, and resonant, one might say just, conclusions. The ideal science-story is: the plot is laid out boringly from the beginning, the central conflict is the experiment, and the conclusion is presented (without regard to justice or irony) in a series of numbers. Good stories are about building worldviews. Science is, sort of, about breaking them.