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Author: Australopithecus One star, 50 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 27  
Subject: Digging for treasure Date: 2/14/2006 4:25 PM
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Since it was I who requested that this discussion board be set up and since the Motley Fools have kindly seen fit to oblige me, I now feel morally obliged to provide an initial discussion point. Since this board is primarily concerned with science and technology, I thought I would get the ball rolling by discussing sources of scientific information that anybody can get access to if they have a yearning to gaze into the crystal ball of future technologies.

If you're like most people, you probably get your science news through the general media where separating reality from hype is not always easy (because telling a "good story" sells) and where of necessity, the scientific content has to be considerably diluted to make it more palatable to a general audience. So what can you do if you want to dig deeper and get a less varnished picture of the science behind the story?

Like the Open Source software movement of recent years, there has been a similar but slower movement towards Open Source publishing in the world of scientific journals. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) at http://www.plos.org is rapidly establishing itself as one of the premier science journals and unlike most of its peers who charge considerable subscription rates for access to its articles, PLOS is completely free to anybody with a web browser. One of the more legitimate gripes about the subscription-only journals is that it is often ordinary folk like you and I who have paid for the research being presented with our hard earned tax dollars, so why shouldn't we have access to the science that we have collectively funded?

While PLOS is completely free, some journals have already offered a limted amount of free access to their content for some time now, usually providing free access to all articles that are more than 6 months old. One good example is the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) at http://www.pnas.org. PNAS, like PLOS, offers anybody with an internet connection, full access to the text, tables and figures of the scientific articles that it has published, although in the case of PNAS, you generally need to pay for articles that are still within 6 months of their first print publication.

A pretty complete list of open access journals is available from the Directory of Open Access Journals at http://www.doaj.org from where you can find a wealth of freely available scholarly articles that span the gamut of intellectual fields from Architecture to Zoology.

But you might still be saying "I'm not a scientist, how am I supposed to make sense of all this data?" to which I will make reply by passing on a small but invaluable tip that I have learned in my 20+ years as a scientist. The simple truth is that the rate of scientific output (whether it's really all "progress" is debatable) has been growing exponentially for decades now and there's just too much even in any one particular field, for any single person to read and absorb. This problem has spawned a huge wealth of "condensed" literature wherein somebody is basically paid to wade through all the data, digest it and regurgitate it in small concentrated pellets of information that are far more digestible than the original fare. These "pellets" range from full-blown reviews of a particular scientific field which still require a considerable knowledge of science to absorb, to "News and Views" articles that are seldom longer than one or two pages and in which the essence of a new scientific discovery is distilled into a more digestible form for the non-specialist reader.

There are review journals that only publish these kind of condensed overviews of a scientific field, but most of the premier journals that publish the original research articles, also have "News and Views" pages on which you'll find a kind of "executive summary" of the science. So if you don't feel up to wading through actual research articles, these pages can be a great place to start. Even professional scientists take advantage of this feature a great deal, since there are only so many hours in a week and research careers seldom allow you to spend entire days reading the literature. The great thing about the "News and Views" pages is that they may give you a better idea of whether it's really worth your while to dedicate your valuable time to reading the full research article, and in some cases, they even provide you with enough background to help you approach the original article with greater confidence.

So in concluding, I would say that there has never been greater access to scientific information than there is today and that if you like to look over the horizon at tomorrow's technologies, there's ample opportunity to do your own research. And don't be discouraged if you're not a specialist yourself - start with the condensed versions and fill in the scientific gaps by using online resources like Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) or the Google search engine (http://www.google.com) or even (perish the thought) books. I'm biased of course, but I think that science is fun and who knows, you might even stumble across the next big thing in the pages of a science journal, long before the Wall Street analysts even have it on their radar.

Gordon
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Author: WyneFool Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 24 of 27
Subject: Re: Digging for treasure Date: 9/7/2006 4:26 PM
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And don't be discouraged if you're not a specialist yourself - start with the condensed versions and fill in the scientific gaps by using online resources like Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) or the Google search engine (http://www.google.com) or even (perish the thought) books.

Having waded through a number of condensed Graduate thesis statements, I agree that it is quicker than the entire paper. I do however, take exception to your "perish the thought books" comment. While there is a wealth of information out there on the highway, many travellers have not received training on validating that information. While Wikipedia may provide a quick overview, is the writer experienced in the field? How much of today's research is invalid/erroneous? If the science is based on shaky conclusion is it still good science? I tend to look at the printed materials where peer review will strip away the false science. Then again I am not a scientest, only a bean counter with a logical mind married to an engineer-trained teacher.

Now, having said all that I think this board is a great idea and aptly named. Remember the final chapter and the 'house of books'.

WineFool

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Author: Chapman208 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 25 of 27
Subject: Re: Digging for treasure Date: 9/8/2006 2:41 PM
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>>>>While Wikipedia may provide a quick overview, is the writer experienced in the field? How much of today's research is invalid/erroneous? If the science is based on shaky conclusion is it still good science? I tend to look at the printed materials where peer review will strip away the false science.

WF: The intriguing thing about Wikipedia is that it is editable by anyone, not just the original author. This allows knowledgeable individuals to correct factual errors after the article has been published. So there can be just as much peer review this way as in the formal manner (perhaps more). As for peer review (in general) "stripping away the false science", that may be asking too much.

What a peer review often does is strip away anything that's not "conventional wisdom" (or science). Once upon a time, "everyone knew" that the earth was round and was the center of the universe, and anyone disagreeing was labeled a heretic. Likewise, many influential scientific papers have been pooh-poohed by the "experts", until decades later, when it was determined that the heretical idea was right after all. ("Dark matter", for example, was ignored or ridiculed in the '70s, when it was proposed, before finally being accepted by most cosmologists in the '90s (with the addition of "dark energy", and then confirmed just in the last year or so.)

Wiki, in concept, is marvelous. In practice, it's only as good as those knowledgeable people who take the time to review/correct it. But even then, it's subject to the same limitations of vision as "official" publications are. (And, occasionally, clashes of egos.)

Mark.

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Author: WyneFool Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 26 of 27
Subject: Re: Digging for treasure Date: 9/12/2006 5:03 PM
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Wiki, in concept, is marvelous. In practice, it's only as good as those knowledgeable people who take the time to review/correct it. But even then, it's subject to the same limitations of vision as "official" publications are.

Mark,

Thanks for the update. I've been refered to Wiki and found it lacking. Didn't realize it was editable. Most of the research I tend to do is either plant (viticulture specifically) or chemistry based (oenology) ...old fields where proof exists and sometimes there are new ways of doing things to explore. (ie uses of various composts to revitalize ageing plants or what is it we smell in xxx compound)

Theoretical science needs (IMHO) to be vetted over and over until proved beyond doubt (ok so sometimes decades between theory and acceptance). Is there a better way? I can't say because I tend to have a jaded, cynical view on most things, except 'science fiction' that is at least plausible.

WyneFool

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Author: Chapman208 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 27 of 27
Subject: Re: Digging for treasure Date: 9/12/2006 6:22 PM
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>>>>I've been refered to Wiki and found it lacking. Didn't realize it was editable.

Wyne: As I said, Wikipedia is only as good as the people who do the editing. Some articles are extremely thorough and up-to-date, and some are lacking. To see how to edit, go to (for example): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_transformation. At the top of the page, there are several tabs. One says "Edit this page". Simply click on it to make changes.

It's certainly possible for multiple people to disagree on the content, and then there can be something of an "editing war" as people change the content back and forth. (You tend to see this primarily on topics related to religion or politics--big surprise). But eventually some level of equilibrium is generally reached as multiple parties end up with a compromise that most can live with (or perhaps some just give up in frustration--your choice).

It may be a while before Wiki replaces (or at least stands beside) Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine as a a recognized peer-review forum, but there's no reason it can't get there eventually. (If nothing else, it's a facinating process to watch it grow and evolve. The home page of wikipedia.org says that there are over 1.3 million articles in the database. Wow!)

>>>>Theoretical science needs (IMHO) to be vetted over and over until proved beyond doubt (ok so sometimes decades between theory and acceptance). Is there a better way? I can't say because I tend to have a jaded, cynical view on most things, except 'science fiction' that is at least plausible.

Hey, if you don't like the quality of what you see (or content is lacking), fix it! That's the beauty of Wiki. It may be more along the lines of Discover magazine at this point than Nature; but, like Discover, it certainly has much more ability to reach the masses than does Nature. Millions of people every day read parts of Wikipedia. I know I look there at least several times a week for information. And, unlike printed media, it is updated daily. The only reason information will get stale in Wikipedia is if the "subject matter experts" don't keep it current.

Mark.

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