Researching science

I’ve been thinking about how you find out the facts – the scientific facts – on a topic. As an academic you develop a set of prejudices, almost unconsciously at times, which help you deal with the riddle of too much information. You know what kind of paper makes it into Nature, from your field. You know how much to trust something published in Trends in Neurosciences compared to Perceptual and Motor Skills (for example). You’re also plugged in to a structure (the Academy) which provides easy access to colleagues, journals, conferences and hence filters and recommends information. You’re immersion lets you develop a judgement for how plausible new information is – you can spot bullshit.

Move out of the University, or move fields, and you lose some or all of that. If you’ve never worked as a professional academic, then you don’t even know what you’re missing. Do you even know that publication in peer-reviewed academic journals is the gold standard for any data? That for many scientists, evidence can in some way be said not to exist until it is peer-reviewed?

Anyway, I wrote some notes for the BBC intranet (research.gateway > science for anyone able to look there) which i’ve also put here. Anyway, if anyone can think of things that should be known by documentary researchers who don’t have a scientific background, but who are researching scientific topics let me know.

From psychology/neuroscience i’ve realised that Behavioural and Brain Sciences have a free on-line archive and so does CogPrints. Both potentially useful if you’re looking for papers to get started on a topic and you don’t have library access.

2 replies on “Researching science”

strangely enough i just finished doing a summary like this. I didnt know about – looks useful. I found a site that lists open access journals, I don’t know how good they are. I included a bit on the format and parts of a reference and stuff too, cos I wondered how unclear that might be to people (don’t know much about yr typical documentary researcher!)

Publication Lag:
Realised that it’s worth mentioning here that research can take years between getting done and being published. A more accurate impression of what is ‘cutting edge’ can be got from conference proceedings (available via WoK/ISI), or perhaps from journals with a very quick review procedure (like Nature or Science).

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