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BIOL 171: General Biology: Evaluating Scientific Literature

Information resources in the general life sciences

Pure Fallacy

XKCD #925: Cell Phones

ZKCD Comic Strip illustrating the correlation / causation fallacy.

View explanation and transcript.  © Bill Munroe

Evaluation of Scientific Publications – A Series from Deutsches Arzteblatt International

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Identifying Primary Research

Primary research is a methodology in which the investigators directly collect and interpret new data.

The results of primary research are reported by the investigators themselves.

Their reports (journal articles, conference presentations, academic theses or dissertations) contain the following: 

Publication Information:

  • Author(s): The names of the people who conducted the study 
    • Their institutional affiliations are usually given
  • Title: This is usually descriptive rather than clever
  • Other information, such as conference or journal name, volume, Issue, date, and DOI

Abstract:  A good abstract summarizes the study: The topic, hypothesis, methodology, results, and conclusions. 

  • This is sometimes absent or presented on another page.

Introduction: This does a few things:

  • It provides context for investigation by summarizing what is known about the topic from prior research.
    • This is called a "literature review" and contains secondary information. 
  • It describes what is not yet known, and states why it's important to find out.  
  • It defines the specific hypothesis to be tested in order to fill that knowledge gap. 

Methodology: This describes the methods used to collect and analyze the data for the purpose of testing the hypothesis. 

Results: This presents the aggregated data (adding together or grouping of the raw data), often using charts, images, or tables. 

Discussion: The investigators present their analysis of the results and what they think it means. 

Conclusion: Sometimes combined with the Discussion, this outlines:

  • The study's contribution to knowledge
  • The limitations of the study 
  • New questions raised by study

References: A list citations for the prior research referenced in the Introduction section.

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