- Can experiments detect differences that matter?
This aspect of a scientific article is important to interpreting a scientific article because if not for a purpose that impact many in the community, what is the article trying to accomplish? In other words, if the research discussed in a piece of scientific writing are insignificant or obvious, then what is the point of researching the topic in the first place? It is important as a reader to identify what matters in an article, particularly the introduction section, in order to have a basic understanding of what will be discussed throughout the article.
- Does the study show causation or correlation?
There is a huge difference between causation and correlation. Correlation involves factors that move and happen together at one single time, and influence the final state of something, and causation is when a factor has a direct implications on the final state of something. For example, there is a correlation relationship between how much schooling someone undergoes and the salary they make at a later age, and an example of causation is being exposed to high pollen counts and sneezing like a maniac. When reading a scientific study, its important to realize the difference between the two and how they effect the final outcomes of experiments. When reading about controversial subjects, this is particularly important because its vital to realize that the difference in causation vs correlation is huge. Correlation does not equal causation.
- What is the mechanism?
When interpreting scientific articles, it is good for the reader to have basic background knowledge of the mechanism of how the scientific subject works. This is often explained in the introduction section of an article and sets the tone for the rest of the article. If the reader doesn’t understand the mechanisms of how the scientific topic works, they may have a difficult time interpreting the results of the experiment.
- How much do experiments reflect reality?
Being able to relate the topic of a scientific article to reality could help a reader better understand the worldly implications of the data presented in the paper. If the experiment does not mimic real world situations, the reader could be swayed to side with one side of a controversial topic over the other side’s argument.
- Could anything else explain the results?
This aspect of interpreting scientific articles kind of goes back to the differences between correlation and causation and how factors influence outcomes in many different ways. Thinking of alternate ways to prove or disprove a topic in science is how we move forward in research and begin to learn new things about the world around us. When interpreting articles, I think it is healthy to have faith in the research done, but also to question the research in a way. In my experience, this keeps the mind open and eager to read alternative research on a topic, especially when said topic is controversial.