Leads for Learning – A Short Guide to Some Scientific Sources

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This week heralds my official return to uni for the year, and my progression from regular student to HONOURS student. What does that mean? Apart from the new privilege of being able to borrow books from university libraries other than my own, it means that this year I am in charge of my own learning, and am completing a research project that will culminate in a fat thesis at the end of the year.

But where does a science researcher get their information from? Sure, they learn plenty from their own experiments and studies, but there’s no point reinventing the wheel – we try and build upon the work of other researchers. When scientists make findings, they will publish them in an academic journal for other scientists to see and evaluate and then use in their own work. But let me tell you, these papers can be super dry and a bit arduous – and that’s even if you do understand all the technical terms. So if you’re not a passionate expert in a particular scientific field but want to see some legitimate science, where can you go? Here are a few suggestions….

The Conversation

The Conversation is an absolute goldmine of science opinions – mostly by actual scientists! They tend to include links to published research and are pretty transparent in terms of stating their industry links and where their research money is coming from (so you should be able to spot any bias). There are lots of articles on all kinds of academic work from science to politics (and sometimes both!), and often have an Australian flavor  – it’s run by Australian universities and institutions and the majority of writers work here.

 

Google Scholar

We’re not talking about just any old Google search here. This is Google Scholar, the most accessible place to find academic literature. Type in your topic of interest and get lost in the wealth of information at your fingertips! Find papers published in respected journals that have been agreed upon by the scientific community to be of value in our quest to understand things. Many results, when you click on them, will take you to a page where you can read the abstract for free, which is basically a summary of what the paper is about. Sadly, this is often all you can access for free (although as a young scientist, I understand – we need to eat and pay rent, too!), but it can give you an idea of what is going on in the boffin brains at the moment.

 

Wikipedia

Sort of. Some of the articles can be quite good on Wikipedia, sometimes written by perfectionist (and often retired) educators and experts. That said, I do agree with every teacher you’ve heard say that Wikipedia articles are the worst place to do any research, but where you really should look is at the bottom of the page: at the Notes, References and Further Reading sections. Following these links should take you to original works which you can read and then draw your own conclusions.

 

Nature

Nature is one of the oldest and most respected science publications in the world. However, the journal itself is pretty intense reading, and you generally will need an expensive license to access any papers. But I’ve recently found Nature Blogs, which is easy to access and has articles from both professional scientists and people who simply have an interest in science. My favourite is Soapbox Science, which features opinion articles on current projects and research and topical issues – for example, getting kids to get engaged with science by finding the line between understanding what they are being taught and being bored with overly simplistic explanations.

 

ScienceDump

ScienceDump is, as the name suggests, a bit of a dumping ground for new and interesting things – although it’s not all strictly science. I also wouldn’t condone everything they post as definitely scientifically correct (there’s just so much stuff!), but it’s a great starting place for finding interesting things that you can look further into… or just for wasting some time without killing brain cells.

 

IFLS

Not for those with an aversion to naughty words, I F***ing Love Science is a fantastic Facebook page devoted to science appreciation, with regular updates on recent findings, science jokes and comics and LOADS of links to reputable sources… and ones that are just entertaining. Even better, they always give credit where credit is due, so it’s all in the spirit of good science where you acknowledge your sources. This site comes recommended by pretty much every science student I know with a Facebook accounts. Not only that, plenty of other people who have Facebook but are not scientists love this page as well – it’s that good.

Seriously, I love this site – if I ever meet the creator, I will have to give them a high-five and probably a hug.

 

Twitter

Oh, so many twitter accounts that are good for fast science – New Scientist, Doctor Karl, CSIROABC Science, NASA, The Curiosity Rover on Mars, Science Magazine, Prof Brian Cox, my geological hero Prof Iain Stewart, The Surfing Scientist, Professor Funk, and The Bucket Scientist! Ha, and my Mum reckons everyone people only tweet about their breakfast.

With the amount of wonderful information so easily accessible to us now, ignorance seems inexcusable. I encourage you to let some of these become your internet time-wasters (yes, it’s time to reduce the number of cat videos we look at on YouTube) and become the person everyone wants on their trivia team. Or just a more interesting conversationalist – I mean, who doesn’t get at least a little excited about things like space exploration?

What are some of your favourite online research tools? Let us know in the comment section below, on our Facebook page or via Twitter.

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Filed under Buttons & Screens, Stand Back: Science!

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