Reader’s guide for laymen too elaborate to follow?

Jennifer Raff – ”Scientist, fighter, reader. In pursuit of the extraordinary.” (and blogger, we must add) – recently wrote a blog post with the title How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists.

Although I think she has a brilliant mind and thatthe initiative is very valuable, my own opinion is that her method is way too thorough and difficult for the targetgroup, i.e. laymen. Take step 3, for example: ”Summarize the background in five sentences or less”. How should a layman be able to do that? And five sentences is not really a concise summary in my eyes.

As a whole, I think that her purpose deserves a lot of credit but also that she has a very idealistic view of the behaviour of knowledge seekers outside of science (where I spend most of my time). Anyway, I am glad that she wrote the article and it inspired me to think of a simplified version, aimed at journalists.


5 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I’d say the blog post is better targeted at undergraduates. When I started my bachelors I used to try reading papers from beginning to end, which was rarely successful!

    “she has a very idealistic view of the behaviour of knowledge seekers outside of science”
    Agreed. I don’t imagine many laypeople would put in the effort to untangle the contents of a paper in its entirety, and instead would read a blogger’s opinion on it. But famous anti-vaccine or anti-climate change blogs aren’t likely to be bias-free…

  2. MN - Science for Students of Literature
    MN - Science for Students of Literature says:

    Yes, it seems a bit too much, but I think it is important for laymen to understand what they would need to do if they would like to argue effectively with scientists on some scientific question. Scientists give years of their life in a community pursuit of truth, never being completely convinced they are absolutely right. Some layman comes and says: “I don’t agree. And it’s my opinion. You don’t know anything!” So, we need some respect of the hard work of understanding scientific questions. (I’m a layman, by the way.)


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