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- Introduction to online biological databases, with special emphasis on literature databases
Preparation for Week 4 Journal Club
"Science... is a process taking place in the minds of living scientists," (Curtis, 1983). The scientific community uses primary research articles as one method of communicating the science within the community (presentations and posters at scientific meetings are others). Primary research articles undergo a process of peer review before they are published, but the quality of papers still vary. "Journal Club" presentations are the means by which scientists with similar research interests learn about, discuss, and evaluate new research. This is the first of three journal club discussions we will have this semester. For this first journal club, the entire class will read and present the Markham et al. (1998) paper referenced above. Each student will create an individual wiki journal page for their Week 3 assignment and also contribute to the shared journal page in preparation for the presentation in class on February 9.
- Make a list of at least 10 biological terms for which you did not know the definitions when you first read the article. Define each of the terms. You can use the glossary in any molecular biology, cell biology, or genetics text book as a source for definitions, or you can use one of many available online biological dictionaries (links below). List the citation(s) for the dictionary(s) you use, providing a URL to the page is fine.
- Write an outline of the article. The length should be the equivalent of 2 pages of standard 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper. Your outline can be in any form you choose, but you should utilize the wiki syntax of headers and either numbered or bulleted lists to create it. The text of the outline does not have to be complete sentences, but it should answer the questions listed below and have enough information so that others can follow it. However, your outline should be in YOUR OWN WORDS, not copied straight from the article.
- What is the main result presented in this paper? (Hint: look at the last sentence of the introduction and restate it in plain English.)
- What is the importance or significance of this work?
- What were the limitations in previous studies that led them to perform this work?
- What were the methods used in the study?
- Briefly state the result shown in each of the figures and tables.
- How do the results of this study compare to the results of previous studies (See Discussion).
- Each group of students will be assigned one table or figure. The pair will be responsible for explaining the table/figure in detail to the class.
Online Biological Dictionaries
How to Read a Primary Research Article
A primary research article is divided into sections that each have a different purpose. Articles in Science and Nature are written in a single narrative format and do not explicitly have these headers. However, the information for each of these sections is still there.
The abstract provides a brief summary of the paper. It states the significance and background, methods, major results, and conclusions from the paper. Different journals have different word limits for the abstract. The abstract is indexed on PubMed and may be the only part of the text publicly available.
The introduction gives the background information necessary to understand the paper.
The introduction should be in the form of a logical argument that “funnels” from broad to narrow:
- States importance of the problem
- States what is known about the problem
- States what is unknown about the problem
- States clues that suggest how to approach the unknown
- States the question the paper is trying to address
- States the experimental approach
- Sometimes briefly states the answer they found
Materials and Methods
Describes the experiments used in the paper with enough detail so that another investigator could reproduce the experiments. However, it is usually written in a "shorthand" style that relies heavily on references to previous literature. Articles in Science and Nature severely restrict the amount of methods that can be included in the paper. In those articles, the information is embedded in the figure legends or references or is available as supplemental online material.
Describes the experiments performed and the results of the experiments. The text can take the form of question, experiment, results from that experiment, repeated several times. Each main experiment should be represented by a figure or table of results. Some people read papers by looking at the figures and reading the legends, then going back to the text for details.
States the answer to the question the paper is trying to address. It explains and defends the answer, if necessary. It puts the results in a broader perspective by comparing with previous results or models. The implications of the results are discussed and the next steps for future research are suggested.
List of references cited in the main text of the paper. Different journals have different styles of references, but all the essential information should be there, authors, year of publication, journal name, volume, and page numbers. The title of the article is sometimes omitted. This list is a useful resource to look for further reading on the subject of the paper.
Just because a paper was published does not mean that it was written well or that the experiments were sound (in a worst case scenario, data may even be fraudulent). The peer review system is designed so that only good research is published, but in practice, that may not be the case. Each paper must be approached with a critical eye. You must judge whether you believe their results and conclusions based on the evidence they give.