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Covering Scientific Research #SciCommLSU

SciCommLSU Lecture 1

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Covering Scientific Research #SciCommLSU

  2. 2. What is Science? What do you think science is? Describe it in a sentence.
  3. 3. The Process of Science The process of science is a creative way of uncovering knowledge and interpreting the meaning of new discoveries. “A scientific way of thinking can help you weed through conflicting reports about nutrition and make better choices about healthy eating. Advances in chemistry, physics, and materials science have led to faster computers and smaller cell phones – letting you take pictures with your phone and send them to your friends. And advances in modeling and meteorology have helped us better predict and plan for natural disasters like floods and hurricanes.”
  4. 4. Positivist Approach to Science Information about the world is derived from logical and mathematical treatments and reports of sensory experience The senses: Sight, Touch, Hearing, Smell, Taste Scientific instruments extend human senses to gather information ◦ Microscope – extends human sight Verified data received from the senses are known as empirical evidence Introspection and intuition are rejected as sources of scientific knowledge.
  5. 5. Scientific Method In the ‘hard’ sciences, the scientific method often takes a hypothetico-deductive form. 1. Use your experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Gather data and look for previous explanations. If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2. 2. Form a conjecture (hypothesis): When nothing else is yet known, try to state an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook. 3. Deduce predictions from the hypothesis: if you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow? 4. Test (or Experiment): Look for evidence (observations) that conflict with these predictions in order to disprove 2. *We can never “prove” our hypothesis. Our hypothesis must be falsifiable.
  6. 6. Scientific Method Hypothesis: From the Greek word hypothesis meaning assumption or the basis of an argument, a hypothesis is a proposal intended to explain certain observations or phenomenon. In science, hypotheses represent the basis of scientific research, which is pursued to objectively determine whether or not a hypothesis is correct. Theory: an explanation inferred from multiple lines of evidence for some broad aspect of the natural world and is logical, testable, and predictive. ◦ Some familiar theories: Gravity, Evolution, global warming
  7. 7. Scientific method Inductive reasoning can also be used to draw generalized conclusions based on finite observations. The grass outside my window is green. Using inductive reasoning I can conclude: All grass is green. This conclusion is valid in inductive reasoning so long as all observations support it. However, in science, we can rarely make every possible observation (i.e. look at every piece of grass). Thus, we can rarely conclusively prove theories.
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  9. 9. Science, especially environmental science, is collaborative and interdisciplinary. “Biologists, chemists, geologists, physicists, and all other scientists objectively gather data about the natural world using multiple research methods, employ similar techniques to analyze these data, form hypotheses based on the data, and work within a global community of individuals and organizations contributing to science.”
  10. 10. Types of Science Basic Science: seeking knowledge for its own sake Applied science: exploring solutions to immediate problems and concerns
  11. 11. Science and Science Writing “’Science’ comprises not only the biological, life, and physical sciences but also the social and behavioral science and such applied fields as medicine, environmental sciences, technology, and engineering.” – Friedman, Dunwoody, Rogers (1986) Science writing includes coverage of these fields as well as political, economic and social aspects of science. ◦ (Yes, science often has political, economic and social implications)
  12. 12. Myths about Science Science is infallible. In fact, science is subject to human bias and error. We can reduce individual bias by working as a scientific community, using peer-review of each others’ work, etc. Science is completely objective. In fact, the scientific questions we pursue are often colored by our societies and our cultures. Scientific controversy is bad. This is not true. Controversies are found in all scientific fields and often lead to progress in science. Similar to the controversy over offshore drilling, scientists appeal to evidence to support their claims, and the nature of the debate changes as new evidence comes to light. But a controversy in science often creates progress because it spurs new research.
  13. 13. Scientific controversy often inspires scientists to begin more research Scientific controversies are resolved when the evidence overwhelmingly favors one argument. However, public debate may still continue after scientists have generally accepted building evidence (as in evidence for climate change). Scientific controversies are distinct from political, ethical, and personal controversies, though sometimes they overlap or can have complex interactions.
  14. 14. Myths about science Science is the work of lone geniuses. In fact, science is incredibly collaborative. “The real drive of human creativity isn’t the lone genius, but the partnership.” Today, scientists are even crowd-sourcing information. “After struggling for years trying to develop his special theory of relativity, Einstein got his old classmate Michele Besso a job at the Swiss patent office — and after ‘a lot of discussions with him,’ Einstein said, ‘I could suddenly comprehend the matter.’”
  15. 15. Scientific Publishing Scientists make their research available to the community by publishing it in scientific journals. Articles are peer-reviewed (reviewed and accepted or rejected by a group of peer scientists in the same or a similar field). Terms to know: article = a nonfiction piece of writing that is published in a journal findings (plural noun) = research results present (verb) = to describe, show, or introduce new information, such as research results publish = to produce a work in printed form, such as in a journal, book, or newspaper
  16. 16. Scientific Journals
  17. 17. Anatomy of a scientific journal article (the unit of primary literature) Authors / Title: Title accurately summarizes the research, and should not sensationalize it. Pay attention to the authors and their affiliations. Are they from universities? Other institutions? Abstract: Be sure to read this. It briefly describes the research question, methods and major findings. The abstract should not be relied on solely, though, because the abstract can sometimes overstate the research implications. Introduction: describes the significance of the research, the major questions and theoretical assumptions. Literature review: Describes the past research that this study builds upon. Sets the stage for the formation of hypotheses. Methods: describes how the researchers went about testing their hypotheses, in such a way that other researchers could reproduce the study. Results / conclusions: An analysis of the data, and interpretations of what the data mean in the context of previous research.
  18. 18. Finding scientific articles Your university library ( Google Scholar (good place to start)
  19. 19. Reading a scientific paper “Reading a scientific paper is a completely different process from reading an article about science in a blog or newspaper. Not only do you read the sections in a different order than they're presented, but you also have to take notes, read it multiple times, and probably go look up other papers in order to understand some of the details.” What is the research approach (experiment? Observation? Case Study?) What is the primary finding? Is it expected, or surprising? Are the results significant? Do the interpretations make sense given the methods used? What does previous research say?
  20. 20. Things to look for: -Buzzfeedism of headlines -No link(s) to peer-reviewed literature -Conflicts of interest (who is funding the research?) -Speculative words and sensationalized words like “prove” and “cure” -Lack of context for single (new) research studies. What does previous research say? Are there alternative explanations? -Small, unrepresentative samples; claiming causation for correlation relationships -Source of information: A scientific article? Or a press release? A scientific meeting?
  21. 21. Covering scientific research Much of science news and science blogging involves covering new (single) research papers. Ensuring quality coverage: ◦ Read the entire paper. If there are aspects you don’t understand, find experts to help you interpret the paper. (Twitter is now great for this). ◦ Put the research in context. Pull other papers on the topic to see where this paper/study fits in with similar research. Look at the other papers cited in the references section. Is this paper extending previous results? Proposing a new theory / mechanism? We should be more cautious with preliminary results or results based on small sample sizes. ◦ Get outside comment. Don’t rely on just the authors of the study or press release materials. Find relevant independent experts who will be forthcoming about their interpretation of the study. ◦ Think of appropriate analogies that will help non-experts understand the results and implications of the research. ◦ Read other science blogs or credible news articles that talk about the paper. Are they missing important aspects of the paper, such as limitations or alternative interpretations?