Monday, August 03, 2015

Don't Believe Every Scientific Study You See

Scholarly research is always "livened up a bit" by adding the latest  news on the topic.

Peer review takes time. By the time a peer reviewed article is published, much more might be happening on that subject.  Adding the latest to your paper shows that you are staying up-to-date on the known information.

But there is a reason peer review takes time.  Sources must be checked out, facts verified, studies scrutinized and compared with others.

Without peer review, the reported findings could be just plain bad science.
Our job is to give a heads-up to the latest in  misleading "research."  Recently, NPR shared a story about a bogus research study that was published in a Pay-to-Publish "open access" journal, complete with a press-release about the "new research," which news outlets picked up on and reported as fact. (This isn't the first time someone has done this to prove that this problem exists. A quick Google Search reveals dozens of examples.)

The NPR program, called On the Media, posted the podcast here.  It should be required listening for any communications student, as well as any student gathering scientific information for a research paper.  Check it out, and if you teach a course, consider it for a PDE requirement.

Is it any wonder the general public constantly moves from one fad diet and miracle cure to another?
We are not the general public.  A student researcher's role is to sift through the mountains of information, find the legitimate and discard the junk.

It isn't always easy.  Using a scholarly database like SocIndex and PsycArticles from EBSCOhost, and being certain that the information you find in an Internet search comes from a reputable journal -- whether open-access or published traditionally-- will provide far more credible results than an open Internet search.

Having confidence that sources are legitimate leaves more of the researcher's time for ensuring that the type of study and the perspective of the study's analysis in well-founded journal articles match the point you are trying to defend in your research.

Thankfully, there is a list of predatory publishers that are known to publish anything for a fee. It probably needs to be updated, but it's a start.  If an article found in an Internet search comes from a journal published by one of these companies, it is not worthy of scholarly attention. It takes a little research to discover the publisher of some open access journals. Click the About link on a journal's the web page and find the information there.

Ask a librarian if you need help with this, or any other aspect of your research.

Hone your Critical Thinking skills by using a chart like this, which is also available with the On The Media podcast:
Click the image to enlarge.

Unfortunately junk "science" gets into the press and fuels important problems like climate change denial and bogus medical trends. Make sure your research is thoroughly on the up -and-up.