SCIN 137 AMU week 8 lesson lab Visible Light Lab Introduction to Meteorology American Military university
Topics to be covered include:
- How to draw conclusions from data analyses
- Reporting results in the scientific community
- Communicating science to the public
- Iterative process of science and course overview
Throughout all the lessons in this class we have explored different elements of the scientific method to better understand how science is conducted. In the last lesson, we discussed how to summarize data sets with measures of central tendency, concepts of standard deviation and standard error, normal data distributions, and when to use some of the most common statistical analyses to determine significant trends in data. Now we will cover the final step of the scientific method, which is drawing conclusions and reporting results. In scientific manuscripts, scientists discuss their results and draw conclusions to summarize the major findings from their studies, and they often present these findings at conferences to their peers. We will also discuss the growing importance of reporting scientific conclusions to the general public to, combat misinformation and allow citizens to make their own informed decisions. There is also value in science literacy and education for policymakers to be able to make informed decisions. Finally, we will review each step of the scientific method and see how this iterative process works together to continually generate and build upon new ideas which continually refines and grows what we know about the natural world
The Growing Connection between Social Media and Science
Stop for a moment and consider your daily internet usage. How often do you check your Facebook account, Tweet your thoughts on Twitter, Instagram your vacations or latest Starbucks drink, or SnapChat pictures to your friends? Do you enjoy sharing your thoughts and personal experiences on blogs? Perhaps you even use social media to meet new friends or go on dates. Regardless of your personal habits, social media has permeated our daily lives, and every day people use their smartphones and personal computers to share information, feelings, and photographs with each other.
Scientists are also catching on to the trend and have dramatically increased their use of social media to raise awareness of their research and combat misinformation in science. In 2014, BuzzFeed, a popular non-scholarly website frequented by the general public, released a list of 25 must-follow Twitter accounts for science enthusiasts that includes astronauts, organizations searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, Pulitzer prize winners, and science writers who host blogs to talk about their research in addition to publishing in peer-reviewed journals (Oakes, 2014). The accounts range from the nationally recognized, federally-funded National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to a spoof account of the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, that takes a far more casual approach to astronomy (Oakes, 2014).
Social media has even aided scientists in the realm of politics. Shortly after President Trump took office in January 2017, numerous federal agencies were ordered to limit outward contact with the general public, including bans on social media (Davis, 2017). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was ordered into a temporary media blackout during the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration, and supporters of the National Park Service began voicing concerns over social media about global climate change (Davis, 2017). As a result, so-called “rogue” or alternative Federal agency accounts appeared. For example, National Park Twitter accounts began emerging that were not affiliated with the Department of the Interior and, therefore, not subject to the social media bans. The official National Park Service Twitter account still posted information regarding park services and safety, but these alternate accounts, such as @AltUSNatParkService, quickly went viral for their posts on global climate change (Davis, 2017).
The use of social media in science may draw mixed reactions from scientists and the general public alike. On one hand, members of the general public are probably less likely to read or understand the complex jargon of peer-reviewed scientific journals, so the use of social media can efficiently summarize the latest research. People who rely on social media for most of their current news may also learn about exciting new breakthroughs in human medical research, conservation of endangered species, or astronomy discoveries simply through their friends and family sharing posts through Facebook or Twitter. On the other hand, people may also view social media with skepticism. After all, anyone can post something on Facebook or publish a blog post on a personal website, so people can just as easily use social media to spread misinformation (knowingly and unknowingly) or portray science in a negative manner.
We will devote much of this lesson to the importance of communicating scientific research to fellow researchers as well as the general public. Next time you use social media, consider how you might use it as you continue your career path. Even if you do not pursue a science-related major, you may still use social media to promote yourself professionally or a business, raise awareness for a cause you support, and help educate your family and friends by sharing informative news articles. With the skills you learn in this class you are better equipped to evaluate information for scientific validity.
Reporting Results to the Scientific Community
Scientists cannot build on previous studies without knowing that they exist, so they devote much of their careers to reporting their research to the scientific community. They may publish manuscripts in peer-reviewed scientific journals, give oral presentations at scientific conferences, or host seminars for community organizations. As a general rule of thumb, the first scientist to publish or report on new research establishes himself or herself as an expert in the field and gains professional credit for generating the new knowledge.
In fact, Charles Darwin, whom people typically credit with evolution, was not the only researcher to develop the concept of natural selection. British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace also developed similar ideas about natural selection during an eight-year expedition to modern-day Indonesia to observe wildlife and collect specimens, similarly to Darwin’s global voyage to the Galapagos Islands (Kuhn, 2013). He also determined that animals evolve by adapting to their environment, wrote a manuscript, and sent it to Darwin for peer review before publication. Darwin had already reached these same conclusions years ago and had not published his work, but Wallace’s letter encouraged him to act. The two naturalists co-authored and published a paper in 1858 about evolution and natural selection, and Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection one year later (Kuhn, 2013). Darwin’s book ultimately gained him notoriety in the scientific community and most of the credit for natural selection, which is partially why students encounter his name in biology textbooks.
Scientific Journals and the Peer Review Process
- Peer-reviewed JournalsOnce a researcher has written a manuscript, the next logical step is to publish in an academic, peer-reviewed journal that relates to the specific field of study. Journals encompass multiple disciplines, including biology, physics, and chemistry, and can differ vastly in their scope. For example, Nature is a weekly multidisciplinary, international journal that publishes research across all fields of science (Springer Nature, 2017a). PLOS Biology, published by the Public Library of Science, focuses specifically on biology and rigorously selects original studies with rigorous methodology and significant interest to researchers (PLOS, n.d.). Journal of Applied Ichthyology has a much narrower focus on fisheries and aquaculture studies (Wiley Online Library, 2017). Before a journal publishes a manuscript, it must pass through a multistep, rigorous peer-review process. Peer review helps ensure the quality and reliability of the research and safeguard against plagiarism of another scientist’s work. Each journal may have specific guidelines to meet its mission statement, but the overall process generally involves the following steps, which are summarized from Nature.
Reporting Science to the General Public
When we analyze a scientific manuscript at the end of this lesson, you will probably notice that the writing style does not appeal to the general public. A non-scientist probably does not subscribe to highly technical journals on fisheries statistics, cancer research, or quantum physics. As a result, scientists may choose to use other mainstream media to serve as educational outreach for the general public. Research agencies or state departments may offer free newsletters or magazines, and anyone with access to the Internet can access scholarly journals if they so desire. There are many science news entities and blogs that to a more general write about important results from current studies. Current examples include Science News, BBC Earth, NewScientist, Live Science, and National Geographic.
In addition, more scientists are utilizing social media, as we discussed earlier. Collins, Shiffman, and Rock (2016) published a promising study last year to investigate how scientists currently perceive and use social media in the workplace. They surveyed nearly 600 scientists, primarily from life science disciplines, and found that most of them use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to some extent to share information with each other and communicate their research to colleagues, family, and friends (Collins, Shiffman, & Rock, 2016). However, scientists mostly perceive its usefulness for communicating with each other as opposed to the general public, and their use of social media has yet to become mainstream. There are some scientists that successfully utilize social media to discuss and disseminate science like Neil deGrasse Tyson (with 5 million followers on twitter) and Bill Nye. Nevertheless, this data provides a valuable baseline as social media usage increases among scientific disciplines (Collins, Shiffman, & Rock, 2016).
Even though relatively few scientists at present use social media as outreach, we may see its usage increase over the next few years. Social media holds great promise to bridge the gap between jargon-heavy scientific manuscripts and the general public. Scientists can combat misconceptions and pseudoscience by sharing educational articles and graphically appealing figures that explain science in layman’s terms, such as promoting the safety of vaccinations. Researchers can raise awareness for their research, especially if they work within a new or relatively unknown field. For example, you may come across a news article or video in your Facebook newsfeed highlighting recent scientific discoveries or major medical breakthroughs. Finally, social media and mainstream media can inform policymakers, such as congressmen and women, about any scientific studies that may relate to a political issue.
Despite its potential, people can also abuse social media and use it to spread false information just as easily as facts. If you find an interesting science blog, always interpret the information cautiously, and check the references that the author cites. As we discussed in earlier lessons, asking questions and being skeptical is at the heart of all science. When in doubt, refer to a peer-reviewed scientific article to fact-check anything you find on social media.