Clarity and accuracy of reporting are fundamental to the scientific process. Readability formulas can estimate how difficult a text is to read. Here, in a corpus consisting of 709,577 abstracts published between 1881 and 2015 from 123 scientific journals, we show that the readability of science is steadily decreasing. Our analyses show that this trend is indicative of a growing use of general scientific jargon. These results are concerning for scientists and for the wider public, as they impact both the reproducibility and accessibility of research findings.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 3 years ago
First impressions based on facial appearance predict many important social outcomes. We investigated whether such impressions also influence the communication of scientific findings to lay audiences, a process that shapes public beliefs, opinion, and policy. First, we investigated the traits that engender interest in a scientist’s work, and those that create the impression of a “good scientist” who does high-quality research. Apparent competence and morality were positively related to both interest and quality judgments, whereas attractiveness boosted interest but decreased perceived quality. Next, we had members of the public choose real science news stories to read or watch and found that people were more likely to choose items that were paired with “interesting-looking” scientists, especially when selecting video-based communications. Finally, we had people read real science news items and found that the research was judged to be of higher quality when paired with researchers who look like “good scientists.” Our findings offer insights into the social psychology of science, and indicate a source of bias in the dissemination of scientific findings to broader society.
Despite increasing interest in pathological and non-pathological dissociation, few researchers have focused on the spiritual experiences involving dissociative states such as mediumship, in which an individual (the medium) claims to be in communication with, or under the control of, the mind of a deceased person. Our preliminary study investigated psychography - in which allegedly “the spirit writes through the medium’s hand” - for potential associations with specific alterations in cerebral activity. We examined ten healthy psychographers - five less expert mediums and five with substantial experience, ranging from 15 to 47 years of automatic writing and 2 to 18 psychographies per month - using single photon emission computed tomography to scan activity as subjects were writing, in both dissociative trance and non-trance states. The complexity of the original written content they produced was analyzed for each individual and for the sample as a whole. The experienced psychographers showed lower levels of activity in the left culmen, left hippocampus, left inferior occipital gyrus, left anterior cingulate, right superior temporal gyrus and right precentral gyrus during psychography compared to their normal (non-trance) writing. The average complexity scores for psychographed content were higher than those for control writing, for both the whole sample and for experienced mediums. The fact that subjects produced complex content in a trance dissociative state suggests they were not merely relaxed, and relaxation seems an unlikely explanation for the underactivation of brain areas specifically related to the cognitive processing being carried out. This finding deserves further investigation both in terms of replication and explanatory hypotheses.
Scientists must communicate about science with public audiences to promote an understanding of complex issues that we face in our technologically advanced society. Some scientists may be concerned about a social stigma or “Sagan effect” associated with participating in public communication. Recent research in the social sciences indicates that public communication by scientists is not a niche activity but is widely done and can be beneficial to a scientist’s career. There are a variety of approaches that scientists can take to become active in science communication.
There is a growing movement to encourage reproducibility and transparency practices in the scientific community, including public access to raw data and protocols, the conduct of replication studies, systematic integration of evidence in systematic reviews, and the documentation of funding and potential conflicts of interest. In this survey, we assessed the current status of reproducibility and transparency addressing these indicators in a random sample of 441 biomedical journal articles published in 2000-2014. Only one study provided a full protocol and none made all raw data directly available. Replication studies were rare (n = 4), and only 16 studies had their data included in a subsequent systematic review or meta-analysis. The majority of studies did not mention anything about funding or conflicts of interest. The percentage of articles with no statement of conflict decreased substantially between 2000 and 2014 (94.4% in 2000 to 34.6% in 2014); the percentage of articles reporting statements of conflicts (0% in 2000, 15.4% in 2014) or no conflicts (5.6% in 2000, 50.0% in 2014) increased. Articles published in journals in the clinical medicine category versus other fields were almost twice as likely to not include any information on funding and to have private funding. This study provides baseline data to compare future progress in improving these indicators in the scientific literature.
While it is recognized that language can pose a barrier to the transfer of scientific knowledge, the convergence on English as the global language of science may suggest that this problem has been resolved. However, our survey searching Google Scholar in 16 languages revealed that 35.6% of 75,513 scientific documents on biodiversity conservation published in 2014 were not in English. Ignoring such non-English knowledge can cause biases in our understanding of study systems. Furthermore, as publication in English has become prevalent, scientific knowledge is often unavailable in local languages. This hinders its use by field practitioners and policy makers for local environmental issues; 54% of protected area directors in Spain identified languages as a barrier. We urge scientific communities to make a more concerted effort to tackle this problem and propose potential approaches both for compiling non-English scientific knowledge effectively and for enhancing the multilingualization of new and existing knowledge available only in English for the users of such knowledge.
Social media has created networked communication channels that facilitate interactions and allow information to proliferate within professional academic communities as well as in informal social circumstances. A significant contemporary discussion in the field of science communication is how scientists are using (or might use) social media to communicate their research. This includes the role of social media in facilitating the exchange of knowledge internally within and among scientific communities, as well as externally for outreach to engage the public. This study investigates how a surveyed sample of 587 scientists from a variety of academic disciplines, but predominantly the academic life sciences, use social media to communicate internally and externally. Our results demonstrate that while social media usage has yet to be widely adopted, scientists in a variety of disciplines use these platforms to exchange scientific knowledge, generally via either Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or blogs. Despite the low frequency of use, our work evidences that scientists perceive numerous potential advantages to using social media in the workplace. Our data provides a baseline from which to assess future trends in social media use within the science academy.
There is a replication crisis spreading through the annals of scientific inquiry. Although some work has been carried out to uncover the roots of this issue, much remains unanswered. With this in mind, this paper investigates how the gender of the experimenter may affect experimental findings. Clinical trials are regularly carried out without any report of the experimenter’s gender and with dubious knowledge of its influence. Consequently, significant biases caused by the experimenter’s gender may lead researchers to conclude that therapeutics or other interventions are either overtreating or undertreating a variety of conditions. Bearing this in mind, this policy paper emphasizes the importance of reporting and controlling for experimenter gender in future research. As backdrop, it explores what we know about the role of experimenter gender in influencing laboratory results, suggests possible mechanisms, and suggests future areas of inquiry.
And so, my fellow scientists: ask not what you can do for reproducibility; ask what reproducibility can do for you! Here, I present five reasons why working reproducibly pays off in the long run and is in the self-interest of every ambitious, career-oriented scientist.
Scientists are under increasing pressure to do “novel” research. Here I explore whether there are risks to overemphasizing novelty when deciding what constitutes good science. I review studies from the philosophy of science to help understand how important an explicit emphasis on novelty might be for scientific progress. I also review studies from the sociology of science to anticipate how emphasizing novelty might impact the structure and function of the scientific community. I conclude that placing too much value on novelty could have counterproductive effects on both the rate of progress in science and the organization of the scientific community. I finish by recommending that our current emphasis on novelty be replaced by a renewed emphasis on predictive power as a characteristic of good science.