Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Teaching scientific critique

A very nice text on teaching how to critique scientific literature:

Main idea of the text: too many teaching assignments we use essentially encourage students to "bullshit"; to generate some plausible-looking, but empty rambling about the topic, or post-hoc interpretations of their results. It's hard to grade, it does not teach students real scientific thinking, it's just generally bad. The author then gives some good pieces of advice about how not to fall into this trap:
  1. Be more specific: offer a critique yourself, evaluate the paper, and, potentially, vindicate it. Send a clear message that our goal is not to find a flaw, but to be able to asses whether there's a flaw in the study. 
  2. Clearly separate critique of methods from critique of results. I fully agree here; students tend to conflate hypothesis-building, experiment design, and results interpretation; they somehow combine it all into one horrible bezoar ball in their heads, and then try to describe it all at once. For example, they tend to perceive negative results as failed studies. Being very clear about what aspects of the study we are actually trying to critique should help here.
  3. My favorite: instead of discussing papers, talk about pop science (post-press release articles that appear in the press). I think that's the most productive idea of all.