Monthly Archives: September 2013

How to Read a Scientific Paper

This post on how to read a scientific paper, for non-scientists, is pretty outstanding.

Reading a scientific paper is a completely different process than 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 for some of the details. Reading a single paper may take you a very long time at first. Be patient with yourself. The process will go much faster as you gain experience.

It does take awhile to understand scientific papers if you aren’t a specialist in the field of study. But if you hear about some study in the news, and you really want to understand it (maybe because it pertains to our planet’s health, or the early days of the universe, or a disease that runs in your family), this is a great guide on how to do it.

And even if you don’t want to invest the time to figure out the article, if you see some media coverage of a new scientific study, it’s worth finding the original press release from the lab or university. The press release is usually written with input from the scientists, and thus is probably truer to the actual meaning of the results than the subsequent media coverage. We’ve all seen headlines trumpeting a cure for cancer, when the actual study involves a very limited case that’s promising but doesn’t merit the hype. But since hype is what gets people to read or watch news, it’s important to be a knowledgeable consumer of information, which usually means going back to the source!

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