Until recently, when I encountered an article based on a scientific study, I would decide how much I thought the study was valid based on how much I agreed with the headline. I always felt like I ought to read the actual study; it’s important to critically evaluate the information we’re being bombarded with, and just confirming my existing biases is not helping anyone, especially me.
But reading studies is hard. They’re technical, and complicated, and it’s time consuming to read them. Besides, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell if something were wrong with the study.
Now I find myself doing the opposite. When I encounter articles, I immediately click through to the original study and read it through. I never took any conscious steps to train this behaviour. So how did it happened?
As homework for one of my classes, I’ve had to read about two studies a week, and write short reactions / questions / impressions of them. This seems to have desensitized me to studies. It made reading them a normal, non-daunting thing. It made it something I do as a matter of habit. I never had to consciously decide to start reading articles I came across in the wild; that just came naturally.
So my advice, if you’d like to develop this habit, is to pick a topic you’re interested in, and maybe know some folk knowledge about, but haven’t actually dug into. Download a bunch of studies about that subject, make a list, and make your way through them, two per week; one if it’s long.
And you don’t have to understand everything in the paper, fully understand it’s ramifications, or be able to analyze fully it’s validity. Often the authors of studies are very up-front about the limitations of their studies, and when subsequent articles and headlines are written up, those qualifications are quietly discarded. So just reading the paper will immediately give you a lot of information you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
You also don’t have to read every study you come across! If you read a study every once in a while, you’ve done something to improve your grasp of the actual facts of the matter. Make it a habit, not a rule.