A McDonalds cook’s product could be a McMuffin. A carpenter’s product may be a house. What might the product of a scientist be? It is a scientific paper published in a scholarly journal. When scientists complete a research project that explain the project and report the results in a report that they submit for publication in a scholarly journal. Upon receipt of the scientific paper, the journal editor sends the paper to experts for evaluation, a process called “peer review.” Peer review involves a detailed analysis by those experts of the strengths and weaknesses of the research addressed in the paper. Peer reviewers may approve the paper as written, may reject the paper as written but offer to review a revision, or completely reject it. If reviewers and editor approve the paper for publication after peer review, this published paper (also called a journal article) adds to the accumulating data and concepts in that area of research.
Articles like this are considered “primary sources” of research and are made available to scientists all around the world. All other sources of scientific information like reviews, textbooks, web sites, and lectures are called “secondary or tertiary sources” and lack the rigorous evaluation by experts that is given to original research papers.
You are now going to learn about “peer review” by doing it, using an actual original research report (scientific paper).
“What? I’m not a Ph.D.!
How do you expect me to do something so sophisticated?”
Slow down! No need to panic! It is not really all that sophisticated. You have the same kind of brain as a scientist! You are able to think critically and creatively.
You are able to determine good ideas from bad ideas and strong data from weak data. You can tell the difference between important findings and trivial findings. And you are capable of generating your own ideas. While you don’t yet have the formal training to be as good at this as real scientists, we all must start somewhere!
We are going to help you get started by giving you all the tools you need to conduct your own peer review of a scientific paper. First, we will give you key background information to help you understand more about both the peer review process and the specific research topic you will be considering. Finally, we will provide you with a version of the original research paper that we re-wrote so it is easier to understand. At the key points in the paper, we show a text box with questions you need to answer with critical and creative thought.
Through this activity, you will discover the thrill of realizing you too can think critically and conduct real scientific analysis when provided the tools, shown how and given the chance to practice! If your teacher allows several students to work together on this research review, you will also learn from each other how to think critically and creatively. Best of all, you will be learning science in the very same way as real scientists. That is what this experience is all about!
This learning activity aims to give you first-hand experience with the peer review process. We do not expect that you are experts in the field, but we are confident that you and your classmates will be able to successfully analyze the research report provided. You may need to ask an adult for assistance or look up a few things on your own, but that is perfectly okay.
In this activity, you will conduct the research review and then write a report that we will pretend will be sent to the journal editor. (In this case, others in your class and your teacher will be our imaginary journal editor.) Depending on instructions given by your teacher, you will either work independently or as part of a group to analyze each section of the research paper using the questions in the text boxes below as your guide. This activity is not meant to be performed all in one class period. Best results can occur if you can pool ideas from a well-working learning group.
It is important for you to know that you are not obliged to praise the article. Your job is to analyze it and if needed, even criticize parts of the rationale, experimental methods, results, or research discussion that seem deficient.
We expect you to think critically and creatively and share those ideas with others in your report.
A proper research report has four main parts, in this order: why, how, what and so what. Most research reports begin with an “Abstract” that summarizes the four main parts of the report.
Why. An introduction section (often called “Introduction”) of the report explains why the researchers wanted to invest time, money, and effort into this study. If the study is observational, the authors should explain why the scientific world would benefit from knowing about these observations. If the study is driven by a hypothesis, that hypothesis should be stated clearly along with an explanation justifying it.
How. The next section of the report (often called “Methods”) describes the experimental design, tools and equipment used, and details of the procedures used in the study.
What. The third section of the report (often called “Results”) presents the data generated by the study. Data are usually accompanied by statistical analysis. This analysis helps the reader know if the research results are likely due to chance or experimental manipulation.
So What. The last section of the report (often called “Discussion”) includes a discussion of the meaning of the research results. This includes analysis of the limitations of the research methods used, interpretation of the data, and discussion of the research relative to what other researchers have reported about the topic. This section also explores how the results from this study apply to the original need for the information or hypothesis. Finally, the authors usually suggest how their results might lead to new research projects to further extend the knowledge and understanding of the topic.
You will be addressing each of these four parts in your review.