Science sources

Comments that go beyond praise and nays
Pat suggests Science News articles as both short and readable.

Both Science (US) and Nature (Britain) have less difficult articles at the front, from news to explanations in English of one or more technical articles in the research section. They also cover other topics of interest, eg, science in Iran.

Anonymous points out that especially re pharmaceuticals, there is a strong bias to publish results that show something, vs nothing. This is true in all fields, though “nothing” can often be “something” — this drug appears to have no effect on the course of the disease. (Fortunately, new journal guidelines require studies to pre-register if they hope to be published, a first step in learning how many studies fail to show positive results.)

One of the difficulties in sorting out information on pharmaceuticals is that rarely do researchers check and re-check published results. There is little incentive to show that drug A doesn’t do as reported. This is part of why in medical articles are not as well trusted.

In all fields, there is a bias for experiments that show results. Once published, and if the point is important enough to confirm, failures now become an important part of the conversation. Other results are needed to confirm findings, add complexities to findings, refute findings. Sometimes when new and surprising predictions are made, I hold the idea as a possibility while waiting for the second study.

Rebekah says look past what appears in magazines to university research, but where is university research published? Science and Nature are two general science magazines, read mostly by people in science or very interested in science. Then there are magazines that specialize.

I will write a couple people asking who funded their research before and after a particular article.

A very important, not-to-be-missed, point is this: scientists read Science and Nature and specialized journals to find out what people in and out of their field are doing. The people with knowledge and experience and healthy skepticism trust what they read in these sources, with some of the caveats mentioned. In part, this is because if errors are discovered, a notification is published; cases of fraud are reported extensively; failures to confirm published results are reported extensively. This varies some by field: medical and publich health publications, for example, are not held in the same esteem as publications of American Physical Society. The National Academies and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are examples of groups created to reliably sort through the science, report what is known and how well it is understood and what needs to be done next.

Few environmental groups are careful to ruthlessly weed out errors and notify readers of fraud. Yet our path ahead is made easier if we attend to both the larger vision of where we are going, and the rocks in the path that might trip us up.

Check out the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the British Royal Society, and other national academies.

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