RTFP: Read the Frakking Paper

06Mar11

A particular rant, brought on by experiences both as a reader and subject of science writing: If you notice an article in the popular, or even scientific press, on a topic that interests you, do your level best to go look up the actual paper. Especially if you’re then going to discuss online about how the authors did or did not clearly do “X”.

Because they might have. Or they might not have. But almost no science reporting, even the best science reporting, will get you to the point where you know what they controlled for, statistically. Or what the paper’s actual conclusions were, rather than just the reporter’s understanding or spin on them. Interact with the science without yet another layer of filter in between you and the actual results.

Paper titles and journals are often in news reports. If not, the lead or senior author’s name certainly will be. And journal articles can be had – make friends with a college student, the local college library, hope the paper was in an Open Access journal, or if it comes down to it, email the author directly.

You’ll be glad you did.

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