Welcome to WHAT BIOLOGISTS DO. These five page contain information on the science behind how biologists know what they know. From microscopes to DNA sequencing, scientists have technologies to measure and analyse almost anything they want. Each technique, however, can only give certain types of information and only by using lots of different methods can we know things for certain.
WHAT BIOLOGISTS DO
Once scientists have made a discovery, they want to share it with each other and the world. Sharing results, new methods and ideas between scientists is how science works. Stephen Hawking would never have been able to do the work he did without reading Albert Einstein's research. And Einstein wouldn't have been able to do any of what he did without reading Newton's book.
Publication = also called an article or a paper. A formal report of your research
Peer-review = the process where peers check someone's work
Expert = a scientist who has specialised in one field through study and research, often with many publications
"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours."
- quote made famous by Isaac Newton, originally from from John of Salisbury, who adapted it from even earlier
Scientists share their results through the form of publications, also called articles in journals. Articles can vary a lot in how they are formatted, but the most important things all of them need is:
Results - what (s)he found in their experiments
Methods - how the experiments were run, described well enough so someone could repeat the experiment to check they get the same results
Discussion - the scientist's ideas about why they think they got the results they did (a bit like a new hypothesis, which more experiments can be done to test it, yay!)
A thing that makes writing what you've found in a scientific article different from writing it in a newspaper article or magazine, is that all scientific articles are peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed means that at least 2 independent scientists who are experts in that area of research have to read and check what you've written. The peer-review checks that:
- your results are interesting and a new finding
- you have written your methods well enough that someone else could recreate your results in their own lab
- the conclusions you have come to make sense with the results that you got
- you have presented your results and ideas clearly
If they think that there are some things you need to change or improve, they will give you a list of suggestions with reasons as to why they would make your paper much better. Although it often means more work for the scientist, and possible disappointment if their paper is rejected altogether, this process dramatically improves the quality of the paper and reliability of its science. In fact, the more criticism a paper gets, the better it ends up being.
The peer-review system, like everything, is not perfect. It is, however, what makes science unique compared to other professions. The system of publication and sharing knowledge encourages comments, criticism and debate. Bringing diverse opinions and knowledge to a topic is considered not only important but essential to improve the reliability of the conclusions. Although scientists search for 'facts', no fact is ever above scrutiny, and can change to fit with new data. This is one of the reasons why communicating science, both through scientific articles but also by conversations/debates/youtube videos is so important - the more people get involved in science and engage with it, the more reliable it becomes.