How do you judge scientific conclusions in areas where you have little knowledge?

We are all laymen in most areas. How do you avoid the trap (assumed in many questions) of accepting scientists as authorities or their conclusions, "on faith?"

Ask for a review of all the evidence: either find and read the original papers yourself, and evaluate them yourself, or ask someone who has read the papers to summarize all the evidence (quickly, without repeating). Then go through the points of evidence one by one, weighing their value as evidence. You have to evaluate it honestly yourself--- how likely is this evidence to be coincidence? How likely is it that it was something else, including something else we haven't thought of? Is there any smoking gun--- something which can't be explained any other reasonable way other than the hypothesis being tested? It's just like anything else, you use common sense. Common sense usually is formalized in science by calling it Baysian statistics. If your common sense doesn't match Baysian statistics, then you should change your common sense.

Do NOT use any social method, including "follow the money" (sometimes people say something in their self-interest which coincidentally also happens to be true). Or "trust the experts with politics I like" (the politics and accuracy don't correlate), or "trust this smart lady/fellow" (this smart lady/fellow are often wrong).

If you don't understand something, ask in a forum like this what it means. At the end, you will understand the evidence, for example, the evidence for dark matter I summarized here, and it should be pretty persuasive: Are there reputable physicists who don't believe dark matter exists? . How do I know it's persuasive? It persuaded me!

At the end, you are usually sure, or sometimes, you just end up thinking there isn't enough evidence (generally, people tend to underestimate the strength of certain kinds of evidence, like a very strong objectively certain reproduced fact, and overestimate the strength of lots and lots of non-evidence, like a bunch of really authoritative experts saying some anecdotes--- the latter counts as zero evidence).

Finally, once you are done, you compare with the social knowledge in the review papers, and see if everyone agrees with you. Nearly all of the time, all the reviews say the same thing as what you reached from reviewing. If not, they usually explain exactly why certain evidence was unreliable, either becuase someone committed fraud, or else there was a mistake in the analysis, and so on. If you don't have time to do a review, please, don't be lazy and just socially go along with the review article or consensus, because this is how false consensus is perpetuated. Let people who did read the papers duke it out, and join in when you've gotten some sense of what's what.

I am not being naive here, but in such cases, you are not in a position to make a judgement. You only have the option to take a stand based on perceived trustworthiness of the source, and/or based on communal credibility.

Unhelpfully, the 'perceived trustworthiness' is often based on subjective reasons, and in polarizing topics of research, it may be affected by one's own political biases. For example, in nature vs. nurture debates in genetics and psychology, social reformists are more likely to align with research that downplays the role of nature. In contrast, LGBTQ organizations are more likely to support research that emphasize such a role.

For more technical and deep research, unfortunately, I don't think the solution offered by Ron Maimon and Malcom Sergeant are practical. Their answers trivialize the multi-layered brain acclimatization that experienced academics have, but educated laymen don't. For anything beyond media-friendly subjects such as sociology and economics, even when presented with enough evidence, the educated layman may not be able to 'join the dots' and construct an explanation that appears convincing.

Take, for example, the theory of abiogenesis of oil - a theory that claims that crude oil-formation is predominantly through geological processes that don't involve organic matter, thereby raising the possibility that the oil will never run out. Most people in the US, including the department of energy don't accept the idea of abiogenesis. On the other hand, there is a small minority of abiogenisis supporters who draw evidence from soviet research in the cold-war era.

Most educated people in the US see the abiogenesis camp as truthers who try to attract cheap attention. But more importantly, hardly anyone looks are primary evidence, which is often quite old, propreitary, or in Russian. Worse still, information regarding these theories is often obtained in the form of vitriolic criticism of the 'other' camp and lateral attacks such as "the Russians used terrible methods" or "the Americans conspired to keep oli prices high".

I for one, know that I have neither the time, nor the depth and breadth of knowledge to objectively evaluate all the primary evidence. Since I trust the DOE, I go with the biogenetic theory. And I know many educated laymen do the same.

Science is not immune to reputations.