Scicomm & Science writing

How YOU can read a scientific paper. Part Two.

I’ll start with a question to YOU the public:

How can scientists improve how they communicate their research with you?

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From Part One of ‘How YOU can read a scientific paper’, you should now know what a scientific paper is, why they exist and what parts they are made up of! I also set you a challenge to try reading your first scientific paper. Did you give it a go?

I am all too aware myself of the time and effort it takes someone to read a scientific paper – you have to make sure quite quickly that it is something that you are interested in and will benefit your knowledge because you don’t want to be wasting time on something that is going to be no good for you, plus you need to check out any words or phrases you don’t understand, plus you need to actually think about what the results are showing you to see if you agree with what the author thinks plus much more. And that is for a scientist who supposedly reads these things all the time! But with the majority of science funding coming from the public we should be showing off our results to them don’t you think?

A scientific paper is something that all research scientists want to get and something we should be proud of and be able to share with the entire world and not just the entire scientific world. But I am sure you will all agree, that no matter how much advice and tips I share about how to read and understand a scientific paper, a non-scientist is going to struggle and not going to want to spend all that time for the gain of some very specific information, albeit it being new exciting data. So, I feel that we as scientists have a duty to share our research with the public and make them care and understand what we have achieved and what we want to achieve. Just sharing the  link to your latest paper though is not going to suffice! So what can we as scientists do?

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Throughout the year, there are hundreds of different science festivals that you can go along to and talk about science with the public. You can even go to music festivals like Glastonbury to talk about science. The problem I find with these opportunities is that they have limited spaces so the chances to go along are hard to come by and sometimes you are going along as part of a team and you are talking about science in a more general capacity – which is great to get people interested – but it isn’t showing the research that you have done and published in your high impact journal – most of the time!

Some scientists like to write science blogs about different science news headlines, what it is like to be a scientist and advice for wannabe  and current PhD students, but some also do ‘journal clubs’ where they do the hard work for you and break down a scientific paper and give you the information you need like these for example by Biomech_Dave. This is an idea I LOVE – and it gave me an idea so you can use your new found skills from Part One and use them as part of Soph’s Science Club – my upcoming new blog feature, or perhaps YouTube feature, where I break down new scientific papers for you so stay tuned for that! Anyway, the problem with these ideas is getting your science blog out there to the public. I can honestly say the hardest bit of writing a science blog is making sure people read it and more importantly, people come back to reading it. In my 11 months of being a committed science blogger, I have grown a small following through social media platforms which I will be forever grateful for, but currently I’m not speaking to the masses – yet! So, if there’s a super cool headline in the news recently like this one about ‘space sperm’ and you wanted to share the original paper in a fun and engaging blog post, the likelihood is not many people will see it and understand where the headline came from.

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So, I seem to be putting every idea out there and then finding a problem with it – sorry that’s just my scientist brain! But there must be a way that a non scientist can get the information they want quickly and it being from the original source rather than risk the media reporting of it being slightly skewed! And I think I came across the answer a few weeks ago….

Video abstracts.

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We know from Part One what an abstract is. It is the summary of the scientific paper and tells you what the authors did and what they found out amongst some other information. But it is just reading words on a screen or a piece of paper. What if we could make those words come to life and be more engaging? I think the video abstract is the way forward.

Now I have been reading scientific papers for about 7 years or so now and never before had I seen a video abstract until a few weeks ago when someone shared it on Twitter and it came up in my feed. I got ridiculously excited thinking it was this new craze for sharing your research with the scientist and non scientist community. But upon further investigation, it seems like this has been around for a few years and I have just missed it! Especially when one of those high impact journals I mentioned before, Cell, have a whole YouTube channel dedicated to these abstracts that was launched in 2009! But it has made me question why we as scientists haven’t been making more of this great way of communicating your research!

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It is probably because scientists don’t have the time to be making videos amongst everything else and generally speaking probably don’t have the best video making and editing skills. And then there are only a handful of journals that accept video abstracts so why should we spend time making one if it is not widely accepted! Plus how many non scientists actually read abstracts of scientific papers if that is who we are targeting with these videos? Perhaps I am fighting a losing battle.

It might become a passing fad and trend but I for one am going to try and make video abstracts to share with the public, even if it is just going to be on my own YouTube channel. There is a way of conveying your results that can be done in a video that is far easier to understand than trying to write about it in a normal abstract. That’s got to be a plus right? And I really think we need to target the public more and there is no better way of doing that than through the media.

I open the floor to you. I want to know whether you’re a scientist or not and what your thoughts on video abstracts would be! Let me know in the comments!

But I also have another challenge for you to see how you feel about video abstracts. Follow this link and read the title of the article and then read the written abstract. Google the few words you are not familiar with and then come back to me after you have read it.

How much did you really understand??

Now follow this link and watch their video abstract.

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Yes there are probably still words and phrases that you’re not sure about as I’m not expecting all of you to be epigenetic experts. But is the overall picture a bit clearer than when you just read their written abstract? It definitely was for me.

If we want to make scientific research more accessible to all, then maybe video abstracts is the next logical step and it needs to be made more of when submitting a paper to a journal.

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I started with a question, so I’ll finish with another for YOU the public:

Would you be more likely to read scientific papers if there was a video abstract?

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Let me know your thoughts on video abstracts whether you are a scientist or a non scientist or if you have any other bright ideas about getting more scientific papers into the eyes of the public!

Science love.

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Please don’t forget to keep up to date on all my new blog posts, all the latest news and more! Find me and Soph talks Science on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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