How to Research Weird Things
How to Research Weird Things
A Library Research Page for Chem199: Freshman Seminar "Weird Science"
- Your contact librarian: Victoria Mitchell
- Tel: (541) 346-3076
- 14 Onyx Bridge
- Generally available M-F, 8:30-5 (more or less)
The Library has stuff on weird things!
And what's more, the UO Libraries, especially the Science Library (if you're talking about weird science), tends to have the kind of information that is credible. If you're looking into a science or theory that is unconventional, out there on the fringe; alternative medical treatments, etc., you want to find out what there is in the scholarly or scientific, peer-reviewed literature about it. You also need to find out what the critics are saying, as well as the supporters.
Start with this excellent web page "Critical Evaluation of Information Sources", created by UO librarian Ted Smith. It can be applied to both printed sources (books, articles) and web sites.
Different types of periodicals
"Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper", the saying goes. But you would probably be more likely to believe something you read in the New York Times or the Washington Post than in the National Inquirer. You can make certain assumptions about the credibility and reliability of information based on the publication. The most reliable sources are those which are considered "scholarly" and are usually peer-reviewed. How do you know if a periodical is scholarly?
- This guide can help you distinguish between scholarly and not: Scholarly or Popular?
- See also this handy, printable sheet (pdf) that shows and describes the whole range of periodicals, from scholarly journals to tabloids: Types of Periodicals
For evaluation just of web sites, I recommend the following:
- This is a nice little tutorial-type site from Ohio State, very easy to use.
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Or, Why it's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources
- From New Mexico State University. See particularly "Criteria" and "Examples".
Libraries are one of the best places
You don't necessarily have to come into the library, although we'd love to see you. (And you can check out video games now at the Science Library! ) You can search for books and scholarly journal articles online, and for many of the journals, the full text of the articles is also available online.
Quick Start: In the search box below you can do a quick search of the UO Library Catalog and 5 scientific article databases.
To see if you can get the full article, click the button. Another window will appear. If it says at the top "Full-text available from: ____________" click that link. If no full text available, click the link below to go the library catalog, to see if we have a paper copy.
Further down on the FindText menu, there is a link to Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory. You can click on this to find out if a journal is "refereed" or peer-reviewed. Ulrich's is pretty reliable. Look down the Ulrich's record for "Document type:" If it says something like "Journal; Academic/Scholarly", right beneath that, it should have an entry that says "Refereed: Yes". If it is some other type of journal or magazine (trade, popular), there will be no entry for "Refereed" at all.
Before you spend too much time looking for articles, it can be a good idea to consult some reference books, such as encyclopedias. These give you an introduction to a topic, and also lead you to further reading, including peer-reviewed literature. The Knight and Science Libraries both have some reference works that could be helpful:
Barnes-Svarney, Patricia L. The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference. SCIENCE REF Q173 .B25 1995
- Handy facts, definitions, and explanations
Encyclopedia of Bioethics KNIGHT REF QH332 .E52 1995
- Also available online (see below.)
Encyclopedia of Science, Technology & Ethics. SCIENCE REF Q175.35 .E53 2005
- Also available online (see below.) A highly praised work, with interesting perspectives.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. SCIENCE REF RC41 .G35 2002
- Also available online (see below.) This 5-volume encyclopedia has very readable articles, and gives balanced treatment to alternative and complementary, as well as conventional therapies.
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 10th ed. (20 vols.) SCIENCE REF Q121 .M7 2007
- Your all-purpose, comprehensive science encyclopedia.
Navarra, Tova. The Encyclopedia of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. SCIENCE REF R733 .N38 2004
The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience. (2 vols.) KNIGHT REF Q172.5 .P77 S54 2002
A good electronic reference source is the Gale Virtual Reference Library. It includes several encyclopedias that contain excellent, useful information for many of the possible research presentation topics:
- Encyclopedia of Bioethics
- Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics
- Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine
- Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine
- Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology
- Learning and Memory
- ... and others
Individual article databases for specific topics that cover mainly scientific, peer-reviewed journals:
Health and Medicine: Medline
Physics and Astronomy: INSPEC
- Web of Science is good if your topic intersects more than one discipline, or you're not really sure.
A good general database that covers academic (scholarly/scientific) and popular periodicals: Academic Search Premier
- NOTE: Academic Search Premier has a search limit feature whereby you can limit to peer-reviewed titles only. However, I have not found this trustworthy, at least not for the sciences. You cannot rely on what it categorizes as "peer-reviewed" to truly be peer-reviewed. Ulrich's, or your own critical judgment is much more reliable.
Peer reviewed -- "Peer reviewed" is often used interchangeably with "refereed" (See "Refereed", below.) Peer review is the process of review by qualified outsiders known as "peers": that is, they are experts in the same field, who identify manuscripts, proposals, grants and other works that worthy of publication. In the peer review process, authors submit their work to scholarly (including scientific) academic journals, who in turn, send manuscripts an editorial board or similar group of peers to determine the article's acceptability, validity, reproducibility of results, grammar and scholarly use of theory. Authors may then be asked to edit or revise before their work is accepted for publication.
- For more information, see this excellent pdf guide on peer review, and why it is particularly important in the sciences.
- Also, this Wikipedia article on peer review is actually quite good --at least when I looked at it. You cannot always rely on Wikipedia as it can be edited by just about anyone, at any time. For a humorous demonstration of this phenomenon, watch this excerpt of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central (looks like you have to sit through a brief commercial first, though.)
Refereed-- A publication that has been peer reviewed This involves external assessment by at least one independent reviewer. In the case of a journal article or conference publication, the independent reviewer (or referee) cannot be a member of the editorial board. See also Peer reviewed.