Hello, and welcome to The Noble Gasbag.
This is a blog that is all about making science more accessible and understandable to non-experts.
Science is fascinating and the results of scientific experiments are vital for making all sorts of decisions, from whether a particular food is good for us, through to large scale issues, like how can we minimise human-induced climate change and keep life on Earth comfortable.
But, let’s face it. Scientific publications are generally not the most interesting things to read, especially to non-experts. There’s all sorts of boring , tedious, perhaps difficult to understand technical information and lots of assumptions about how much the reader knows about the subject. As a practicing scientific researcher, when reading scientific papers I regularly find myself yawning, not fully understanding parts and my mind wandering.
All this “boring” information is critical to the scientific process. It needs to be included in the paper because that is what allows other experts to use and test the results. Perhaps more importantly, it is essential for the peer review process. I will talk more about this in another blog post, but peer review is one of the things that make science credible and robust.
Peer review means that, if I am reading a paper where I am not an expert in the particular method being used, I don’t need to understand all the fine details and assumptions of the methodology. I don’t need to know how it works. I can just read the introduction of the paper, to understand why the work is relevant, and read the discussion and conclusions section to know what their experiments found out. I don’t necessarily need to understand how they reached those conclusions, because a peer review panel of experts has already examined the paper in detail and checked that it is scientifically robust, and if they have missed anything important, then other subject-specific experts who read the paper will comment on the problems. I, as a non-expert reader, am free to accept and trust the conclusions reached by the paper authors, and enjoy the extra knowledge that their work has given me.
One of the things I want to do with this blog is to provide easy-to-understand summaries of my own peer-reviewed articles. I don’t want you to have to wade through paragraphs of information about mass-spectrometer corrections factors to find out when a particular volcano erupted and why that is interesting.
However, to really understand the relevance of some of my papers, you do need a bit of background knowledge, so I also plan to write a few blog posts summarising some of this information in what I hope is an easy to understand way.
Finally, scientific knowledge is incredibly important for making political decisions that affect the entire world. There is a lot of public misunderstanding about some of this scientific knowledge, and indeed the scientific process itself. I will also be blogging about some of these issues to try and clarify information and also to highlight some of the important and difficult decisions that need to be made about the way we live.