Project: Science is dedicated to providing and discussing quality coverage of science on WikiTribune. For related Projects go to ‘See Also’ below. Guidelines, tips, and ideas are all mutable so please edit and improve. You can pitch ideas on the TALK page, or for more topical issues, on the Daily News Agenda.
Choosing a Topic
Good types of studies to report on include:
- Large secondary studies (e.g. systematic literature reviews, meta-analyses, systematic mapping studies), which summarize what is known about a topic and the strength of evidence for different claims.
- New, exciting breakthroughs. For these, avoid over-hyping claims and pay close attention to limitations (see Part 2). Scientists avoid making strong recommendations based on a single study.
- Old, interesting studies that never received the attention they deserved, or have new relevance due to current events. For example, this 1995 article showed that protein rich foods are not actually more filling than carbohydrate-rich foods, debunking the premise of the Atkins diet, but received little media attention.
- Studies from fields that get less media attention including chemistry, criminology, engineering (except robotics and aerospace), geography, linguistics, management, social work and sociology.
Suggestions for Researching the Story
- Read the entire paper, not just the abstract.
- Contact the author(s). Give them a chance to let you know if you have correctly interpreted the study results.
- Get a second (and third, and fourth) opinion on the significance of the paper from one or more experts in the area who do not have a conflict of interest with the author(s); for instance, co-authoring a paper or working at the same university.
- Look for how the study fits into existing research. Is this part of a larger body of research? Is a consensus emerging, or are findings mixed?
- Avoid using non-peer-reviewed journals where possible. Predatory journals are known to publish misleading information.
Suggestions for Writing the Story (Editorial Guidelines)
- Always link to the official version of the publication (typically on the publisher’s website).
- If the publication is behind a paywall, link to an unofficial preprint if available. Good sources of preprints including: the author’s website, arXiv.org, ResearchGate, Academia.edu and the author’s university’s preprint server.
- If the study’s data is publicly available, link to the data.
- Refer to the author(s) by name. Do not say “researchers at Harvard…”
- Report the limitations listed in the study and any additional limitations suggested by other experts you contact for the story.
- Consider methodology and report on it if possible. A mathematical hypothesis or animal testing, vs an in-depth meta-analysis changes the story considerably.
- Report who funded the study. If the study was funded by a corporation with an interest in the outcome, reporting the funder is critical. If the study was funded by a research council (e.g. the National Science Foundation in the United States) or internally by a university, reporting the funder is good practice but not critical.
- Give due weight to competing claims. Global warming denialism does not need to be given attention in a scientific article.
- If possible, discuss implications for the everyday life of the reader. However, avoid draw far-reaching implications that are not supported by the study.
- Avoid the following words:
- Prove, Disprove and Proof (unless you are referring to a breakthrough in mathematics) – empirical science neither proves nor disproves anything. Science “supports,” “indicates”, “demonstrates” and “evidences” or “refutes,” “rejects,” “undermines,” and “questions”.
- Theory, Hypothesis, Law, Paradigm – these words have different meanings in different scientific communities, and tend to confuse laypersons. Refer instead to a model; e.g., “Prof. Smith’s climate model shows that…”, “Prof. Li modelled the behavior of junior software engineers…”
- Unscientific language including miracle, holy grail, missing link and God particle.
- Take care when using words that have different meanings in science and everyday life, as exemplified in the following table.
Stories in Draft
- Space exploration – Is it now private companies’ territory?
- LIGO: How Scientists Hear Ripples in Space
- UN resolution on plastic waste gets 200 signatures
- Plastics in the ocean – examining the problem
- Plastics – and some inconvenient truths
- Explainer: the agenda for COP23 climate talks in Bonn
- Why clean air and water is a matter of life and death
- Explainer: Why has Britain’s sun turned red?
- How to make gold? Take two medium-sized neutron stars, mix, and stir gently
- Essay: In dealing with climate change we need to take the heat out of our cities
- Is phosphorus running out and why does it matter?
- How will humanity go extinct?
- Why have the number of allergy sufferers in the world increased?
Sources of Open-Access Journals:
Directory of Open Access Journals
Wiley Open Access
PubMed Central – search all open access articles in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine database
PubMed – results are individually annotated as to open access availability
Paywall/Student access depending on journal and university:
ACS Publications (limited number of free journals)
JSTOR (limited number of free journals)
Nature (limited number of free journals)
Science Direct (limited number of free journals)
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