Pseudoscience and bad science in biomedicine: Analysis of evidence, health risks, and media dissemination

Gonzalo Casino


Pseudoscience (false science) and science based on faulty and biased studies (bad science) produce false or uncertain knowledge, with poor or no evidence. Both represent a health risk: pseudoscience-based therapies because they can replace or delay conventional treatments, and low-quality biomedicine because it promotes medical interventions that can be dangerous. In the press, alternative therapies are less prevalent than low-quality research, while the former tends to be framed negatively and the latter favourably. Both require more thorough and rigorous studies to better understand their negative effects on critical thinking, economics, and health-related decision making.


pseudoscience; bad science; biomedicine; complementary and alternative medicine; scientific communication

Full Text: PDF



Angell, M., & Kassirer, J. P. (1998). Alternative medicine: The risks of untested and unregulated remedies. The New England Journal of Medicine, 339(12), 839–841. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199809173391210

Baker, M. (2016). 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility. Nature, 533(7604), 452–454. doi: 10.1038/533452a

Bauer, M. (1998). The medicalization of science news: From the “rocket-scalpel” to the “gene-meteorite” complex. Social Science Information37(4), 731–751. doi: 10.1177/053901898037004009

BMJ Publishing Group Limited. (2017). What conclusions has Clinical Evidence drawn about what works, what doesn’t based on randomised controlled trial evidence? Retrieved on 4 September 2017 from

Camí, J., Méndez-Vásquez, R. I., & Suñén-Pinyol, E. (2008). Evolución de la productividad científica de España en biomedicina (1981-2006). Redes, 10, 24–29. Retrieved from

Chalmers, I., & Glasziou, P. (2009). Avoidable waste in the production and reporting of research evidence. The Lancet, 374(9683), 86–89. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60329-9

Cortiñas-Rovira, S., Alonso-Marcos, F., Pont-Sorribes, C., & Escribà-Sales, E. (2015). Science journalists’ perceptions and attitudes to pseudoscience in Spain. Public Understanding of Science, 24(4), 450–465. doi: 10.1177/0963662514558991

Djulbegovic, B., & Hozo, I. (2007). When should potentially false research findings be considered acceptable? PLoS Medicine, 4(2), 0211–0217. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040026

Dumas-Mallet, E., Smith, A., Boraud, T., & Gonon, F. (2017). Poor replication validity of biomedical association studies reported by newspapers. PLoS ONE, 12(2), e0172650. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172650

Escribà-Sales, E., Cortiñas Rovira, S., & Alonso-Marcos, F. (2015). La pseudociencia en los medios de comunicación: Estudio de caso del tratamiento de la homeopatía en la prensa española y británica durante el período 2009-2014. Panace@, 16(42), 177–183.

Goldacre, B. (2009). Bad science. London: Harper Perennial.

Gonon, F., Konsman, J. P., Cohen, D., & Boraud, T. (2012). Why most biomedical findings echoed by newspapers turn out to be false: The case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE, 7(9), e44275. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044275

Goodman, S., & Greenland, S. (2007). Why most published research findings are false: Problems in the analysis. PLoS Medicine, 4(4), e168. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040168

Guyatt, G. H., Oxman, A. D., Vist, G. E., Kunz, R., Falck-Ytter, Y., Alonso-Coello, P., & Schünemann, H. J. (2008). GRADE: An emerging consensus on rating quality of evidence and strength of recommendations. British Medical Journal, 9(1), 8–11. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39489.470347.AD

Haynes, R. B. (2005). Bmjupdates+, a new free service for evidence-based clinical practice. Evidence-Based Mental Health, 8(3), 62–63. doi: 10.1136/ebmh.8.3.62

Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Medicine, 2(8), e124. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

Johnson, S. B., Park, H. S., Gross, C. P., & Yu, J. B. (2018). Use of alternative medicine for cancer and its impact on survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 110(1), 1–4. Pre-published online. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx145

Lai, W. Y. Y., & Lane, T. (2009). Characteristics of medical research news reported on front pages of newspapers. PLoS ONE, 4(7), e6103. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006103

Mercurio, R., & Eliott, J. A. (2011). Trick or treat? Australian newspaper portrayal of complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of cancer. Supportive Care in Cancer, 19(1), 67–80. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0790-4

Ministry of Health, Social Policy, and Equality. (2011). Análisis de situación de las terapias naturales. Madrid: MSPSI. Retrieved from

Moreno-Castro, C., & Lopera-Pareja, E. H. (2016, 26-28 April). Comparative study of the frequency of use of natural therapies among the Spanish population and their public image on digital media. 14th International Conference on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST), Estambul, Turquía. Retrieved from

Munafò, M. R., Nosek, B. A., Bishop, D. V. M., Button, K. S., Chambers, C. D., Percie du Sert, N., … Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2017). A manifesto for reproducible science. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(1), 21. doi: 10.1038/s41562-016-0021

Schoenfeld, J. D., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2013). Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(1), 127–134. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.047142

Sumner, P., Vivian-Griffiths, S., Boivin, J., Williams, A., Bott, L., Adams, R., … Chambers, C. D. (2016). Exaggerations and caveats in press releases and health-related science news. PLoS ONE, 11(12), e0168217. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0168217

Sumner, P., Vivian-Griffiths, S., Boivin, J., Williams, A., Venetis, C. A., Davies, A., … Chambers, C. D. (2014). The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: Retrospective observational study. British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition), 349(dec09_7), g7015. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7015


  • There are currently no refbacks.