Quiet frontier.

Academic papers hold a lot of knowledge but you shouldn’t trust them blindy. You need to know the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, watch out for selection bias, avoid confusing correlation with causation, and much more. Susannah Locke of Vox has prepared a card deck 8 ways to be a more savvy science reader. At the end I added a section on predatory publications as well. Let’s dig into it.

How can you tell if scientific evidence is strong or weak?

Know the difference between a hypothesis and a theory

Watch out for selection bias

Don’t confuse correlation and causation

Look for the gold standard: double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized tests

Understand “significance”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

Know that peer review isn’t perfect

Realize that not all journals are good

Recognize predatory journals

As Wikipedia puts it, “in academic publishing, predatory open access publishing is an exploitative open-access publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (open access or not).” Your time is valuable so think twice before spending it on such publications. Unfortunately they are rising in numbers: predatory scholarly open-access publishers went from 18 (2011) to 923 (2016), predatory scholarly open-access journals went from 126 (2013) to 882 (2016), and hijacked journals went from 30 (2015) to 101 (2016).

Unless you are active in the academic community (e.g. a PhD student), it might be difficult to recognize such publications. If a paper looks poorly formatted, makes no sense from the beginning and turns you into Samuel Johnson (Figure 1), check if the Journal appears on any of these lists:


Samuel Johnson wondering what did he just read.
Figure 1: Samuel Johnson wondering what did he just read


Concluding remarks

As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. Just remember not to waste time on fruitless endeavours.

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