Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Research Briefings

At the recent Royal Institution debate on science journalism, I argued that scientists should be using their blogs to summarise key research findings for journalists and the public. You can watch me make this case here, running from 8.00min – 16.00min. I would also recommend watching the whole video to see the excellent talks by Ananyo Bhattacharya, Ed Yong, and Fiona Fox.

The aim of such blog articles shouldn’t be to court publicity or to merely regurgitate our peer-reviewed publications. Instead we should try to provide an overview that is tailored specifically for non-scientists, using minimal jargon and assuming no background knowledge. In keeping with Tim Radford's 7th commandment, we should also avoid insulting the reader's intelligence.

I’m going to call these blog articles “Research Briefings”. I plan to write a new research briefing for each of our peer-reviewed publications that has potential interest to those outside science. If the work is of sufficient public interest to warrant a general press release, I will also link to the blog article within the press release.

This month I'll be writing two research briefings for our forthcoming papers. In the first one I'll discuss a study in which we used transcranial magnetic stimulation to test whether 'feedback' in the brain rebuilds visual perception. In the second article, I'll talk about a series of experiments in which we found that training people to inhibit simple movements of the hands can reduce risky gambling behaviour.

Most of the work we produce is published behind paywalls but I will always make the PDF freely available within my articles. All of my published papers can also be freely downloaded here.

A final cautionary note about these articles. At the Ri debate, Nicola Davis of The Times’ Eureka magazine took the microphone to express concerns about scientists blogging. In her words:

“But, actually, with my journalist's hat on, my concern with that is that you have no idea about the credibility of what’s in that blog, and you have the problem as well that who shouts the loudest also gets more blog coverage. 

So you might have a story that has really very little scientific credibility getting a huge amount of blog posts being written, and written, and written about it. So I think blogging is great in one way…but I think it’s really a dangerous territory as well because there’s no kitemark on a blog.”

I think blogging is important, but I also think Nicola makes a good point. Therefore I want to stress the following caution for readers: my research briefings are not peer-reviewed and should be regarded as a supplement to the original peer-reviewed paper, and never as a substitute for it. So, caveat lector, and all that! 

1 comment:

  1. Nice idea! I will try to do the same... and with the same caveats!