I wrote somewhat of a summary for a friend who is not very into science. I tried to explain in a short text, and obviously a lot is missing, i wonder what you guys/girls think. Is it clear, where is my english wrong or any other feedback is much appreciated!
A basic guide to understanding scientific articles
Scientific articles may seem overwhelming for people who are not ‘scientifically literate’, in the following text I will set out to clear things up and make you able to interpret scientific articles and data in a more comprehensive way.
Science is the method of evaluating the world based on experiments, these experiments and their results are written down in a scientific article. A scientific article is then published in a journal after being reviewed by peers. This peer review consists of evaluation of the method used in the experiment and also determining if the conclusions in the article follow from the results of the experiment. Peer review is of primary importance to the scientific process, because it serves as a tool to keep data reliable. If data becomes unreliable scientists thinking about new experiments will make unnecessary mistakes.
There are 6 key components of a scientific article, in order of (common) appearance; Abstract, Introduction, Material and Methods, results, discussion/conclusion and a reference list.
These 6 components ensure that an experiment or study is reproducible for other scientists. It is necessary for an experiment to be reproducible because this makes sure that other scientists can check if you did your work correctly and that you aren’t, for example, making up data.
Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the article. It gives short information on what was determined, what method has been used to determine this and the results and conclusions following from this method.
Introduction: In the introduction it is explained what the background of the experiment is. What is the motive for the experiment, what is the theoretical background and what is the hypothesis. The theoretical background is the already accumulated knowledge available and published in scientific journals. You can see here that reproducibility and reliability of an experiment is important, since future authors might use your article as a reference in their theoretical background. From this theoretical background follows a hypothesis, which is an educated guess about the outcome your research question. For example, it is know that a ball falls towards the ground when one stops holding it up, it is therefore my hypothesis that when I will jump up, I eventually will drop back down. I have combined the theoretical background, a ball falling, into a hypothesis of my research question being ‘what happens if I jump up’. As one can see, this is a very basic experiment.
Material and Methods: In this part the procedure followed in the experiment is described. This is done in such a way that the experiment is reproducible but not get into tedious details. For example one should include at what temperature a certain sample is incubated, and in what type of incubator, but not how old the incubator is or if you had on safety goggles. The material methods is a description of what has happened, but is not a detailed protocol. There is much debate and uncertainty on what should and what should not be included in an Material and Methods, this has to be evaluated case by case.
The material and method is also the part where it is explained how data was analysed. There are certain statistical tests which give a certain significance when data is inserted into these test. Significance is a determination of the chance that variations in data are explained by the variables in the experiment or that they can be explained by random chance.
Results: The results of the experiment are shown here in graphs, tables and in text. It is simply naming the data recorded, without adding any interpretation to said data.
Discussion/conclusion: This is one of the hardest parts to write. It is somewhat of a discussion between the author and himself on what the results mean and how they should be interpreted. It is explained how one reached a certain conclusion and what the implications of this are for future research or, for example, government policy.
Reference list: a comprehensive list of all sources used in the article, if you have no sources, you are basically not taken serious. (just like i have not included any sources in the text you just read. Which i could find, but im too lazy to at the moment)
Evaluation of a scientific article
An important factor to determine if a scientific article and its conclusions are reliable is to look at the amount of experimental subjects(for example how many plants were given a certain fertilizer) used. With a high number of experimental subjects providing more reliable results and a low number being more susceptible to the effects of random chance.
More about reliability of an experiment is explained here https://explorable.com/validity-and-reliability
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