Thursday, February 13, 2014

Study This Before Reading the Study

No, I don't know what that big brown thing is on her blog page. 

I saw the link to this blog post on twitter the other day: How to read and understand a scientific paper: A guide for non-scientists. I thought the post, written by Jennifer Raff for her blog Violent Metaphors, was very good.

I wish I could remember who put up that tweet so I could give that person credit. Dang.

I thought it was particularly relevant since it seems that I have been posting about several studies recently. And we all know WHY Julia keeps putting up links to autoimmune research, don't we? All together now:

Because knowledge is power, people! *punches fist skyward*

Whew. Glad I got that out of my system.

Simply reading a study doesn't do any good if one is unable to make sense of the information, and becoming familiar with the usual format that these study results are published in goes a long way towards digesting the data contained within. When I read Jennifer Raff's piece, I appreciated her ability to clearly explain this process. I have included just a few of her steps here but head over there to read the whole thing:
1. Begin by reading the introduction, not the abstract
The abstract is that dense first paragraph at the very beginning of a paper. In fact, that’s often the only part of a paper that many non-scientists read when they’re trying to build a scientific argument. (This is a terrible practice—don’t do it.).  When I’m choosing papers to read, I decide what’s relevant to my interests based on a combination of the title and abstract. But when I’ve got a collection of papers assembled for deep reading, I always read the abstract last. I do this because abstracts contain a succinct summary of the entire paper, and I’m concerned about inadvertently becoming biased by the authors’ interpretation of the results. 
2. Identify the BIG QUESTION
Not “What is this paper about”, but “What problem is this entire field trying to solve?”
This helps you focus on why this research is being done.  Look closely for evidence of agenda-motivated research.
 Continue reading here.

Yes, that's right. This author suggests that you do not read a scientific paper or study from the beginning.  But you CAN read her post from beginning to end. So go do it.

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