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mlhodges's picture

Disconnect within a field

 A couple of days ago in Biochemistry we were discussing a complicated paper from the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The question of whether or not we were really learning something by reading and analyzing the paper arose. A couple of students in the class explained that they found the paper to be “useless” because they couldn’t comprehend anything in the paper. They thought it was written at a too-advanced level. In order to complete the homework assignment, which was a paper analysis form asking us to describe what the figures and tables were showing, the students said they ended up copying the “summarization” sentences describing the diagrams that were scattered throughout the paper. The professor responded to this dilemma by explaining that that was the point of the assignment – to learn to read scientific papers by struggling through them and grasping what you could. First of all, to me, it sounded like students were copying and pasting, not truly understanding what the figures and tables were showing…  In addition, to my surprise, the professor admitted that she herself struggled with understanding the paper. As a Biochemistry professor at Bryn Mawr who has had an extensive education specifically in Biochem, it made me question whether or not her struggling was an appropriate response to the paper or a sign that there was a greater issue. Should a paper that is not academically accessible to someone like my Biochem prof be appropriate for a scientist to publish? To some degree, doesn’t this encourage a gap amongst all scientists, even with other scientists in the field of biochemistry? Using this as an example, it seems as though the scientific community can not present new information to the public in an effective manner, in fact, they can not even present it to other scientists in their own field...



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