Google Scholar is Filled with Junk Science

An interesting commentary on the state of Google Scholar’s search results.

I haven’t personally experienced the junk science results in Google Scholar that this author discusses, but then again my current research may not be attractive for predatory publishers. I’m focusing on plant physiology and biochemistry, which may be less prone to junk science when compared with more controversial areas or topics.

But this problem is very important to keep at the front of your mind if you’re researching a new area and may not have the skills to evaluate the research and determine ‘good science’ from ‘bad science’.

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Storytelling in Science

I’m always looking for that something extra to make my presentations more interesting and stand out from the rest of the crowd. I like to think I’ve mastered the standard recommendations for improving presentations such as:

  • Not too many slides – about one per minute is good
  • Don’t just read out your slides, add something extra to your talk
  • Reduce the number of words on each slide, and make sure to use a big font size
  • Use images to illustrate concepts if possible, but don’t add irrelevant pictures
  • Look at the audience (they’re not as scary as you’ve made them out to be in your head – they’re probably either scared witless about doing their own presentation in a minute or not even really listening)

Randy Olson’s TED talk about adding story to science presentations was something new for me. He’s a science professor turned filmaker and science communicator who is passionate about bringing more ‘story’ into science communication to increase the general public’s engagement with science.

He desribes the standard model for scientific presentations as ‘here’s my data and here’s my results and here’s a graph and here’s another graph and here’s my conclusions’. This makes for clear communication, but it’s not very interesting.

Randy’s idea is for science presenters to use the AND, BUT, THEREFORE rule to create a story and more interesting talks, not just a boring bunch of facts. See Randy’s presentation at TEDMED 2013 here. I’m going to try it out in my next presentation and see how it feels.

Don't be such a scientist

He’s also written a book called ‘Don’t Be Such a Scientist‘ which discusses the idea that the general public doesn’t ‘speak science’ and how to communicate science ideas with ‘more heart and less head’. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Understanding scientific evidence is in everyone’s best interests

After having a conversation today with some researchers about how science (mostly bad or badly portrayed) is being used in the current Australian federal election campaign(s) I realised again how much trust I place in the word of people in positions of authority. This authority can be in the form of powerful people or people I perceive as being an authority on a topic.

I’m not gullible but I’m also not all the way at the other end of the cynical spectrum. I’m somewhere in the middle where I don’t actively question the motives of people and the evidence they are presenting (except in the form of advertising where these are just blatantly obvious). Maybe I do it subconciously, Ill have to keep an open mind to that possibility.

question marks
Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So when I came across an article about scientific evidence from The Conversation it was particularly poignant and I appreciated again that it’s not just me who doesn’t actively question or ponder the evidence. If I have a science degree and I’m not in the habit of doing this then I’m scared worried nervous about what the rest of the population is doing. There is so little scientific literacy in the community – how many people even know about:
– objectivity and bias
– validity and accuracy
– peer review
– interpreting evidence

Increasing scientific literacy would benefit so many parts of everyday life for all of us and reduce the misinformation, misunderstanding and conflict about the need for conservation, water resource management and coping with climate change (and sooooo many other things).

Read more:

Scientific evidence: what is it and how can we trust it? by Manu Saunders
http://theconversation.com/scientific-evidence-what-is-it-and-how-can-we-trust-it-14716