On science literature and quality

Hi everyone! I’m taking a moment here to talk about something slightly different that I thought would be helpful to a non-scientific audience: how I’m finding my information. I think everyone here agrees that developments in medicine and healthcare are deeply founded in science research. The two disciplines really go hand in hand, and the refinement of the scientific method has greatly contributed to accelerated advancement in medical research.

It may seem obvious that, in order to learn about science, you should read from a scientist. I mean, if you wanted your house to be painted you would go to a painter. If you needed your pipes to get fixed you would see a plumber. It’s common sense, so if you want to learn more about science you would want to refer to a scientist, who in turn refers to scientific literature.

What is peer-reviewed literature?

We prefer reading peer-reviewed literature because it means that it has been quality-checked by other experts in the field. Many of the more prominent journals will require that submitted articles go through a peer-review process, where the article gets distributed to related experts who would be able to spot oddities and uncertainties in the article, and they write comments back to the authors. This process helps to ensure that the content is meaningful, relevant, and most importantly, not false information. While the reviewers typically won’t do the experiments themselves to double-check, they ask the right questions about the data being presented.

How do I know if I’m reading from a quality journal?

Nature and Science are probably two of the most popular scientific journals out there. A lot of the most impactful scientific findings are posted to these two journals, so if you’re reading from those, chances are that you’re reading quality stuff.

In general, esteemed journals will also publish something called an Impact Factor. This number is primarily based on how often the articles are cited by other articles, among other things. Papers that are well-cited tend to be important in pushing research forward, so higher numbers for Impact Factor are generally better than lower numbers.

What are the basics to science literature research?

PubMed is one of the biggest search engines for peer-reviewed life science literature.

I generally begin a literature search by going to a relevant search engine (usually PubMed if it’s clinical or life sciences, Web of Science if chemistry or other quantitative sciences). If I know little to nothing about the topic, I will first search for review articles. These are articles that have been written to summarize the scope of the literature findings on a particular topic. From there, I generally follow the citation links to the primary literature to see the data that led to a specific finding. I also continue searching the primary literature through these search engines.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a burning question to ask, you can consider leaving a comment or tweeting at me @hongtranphd to look into it for you :).

I hope this post was helpful in explaining both how I get my information and why my sources are important! Until next time!

– The Scientist Next Door


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