Once a scientist, always a scientist

No way to deny it. I am a science geek, and I will remain a science geek, no matter if in the lab or in the kitchen (the kitchen is a lab, too, I would say). When I spend time on learning new things about cooking, eating, sweets, or health, I still carry around that scientist in me. That makes me quite allergic when it comes to pseudo-scientific or pointless explanations, which I unfortunately encounter a lot in books, forums, blogs, cooking-shows, workshops, etc. To be more precise:
Not everything must be scientific!1
A cooking recipe that works, works. Point. Even without a single scientific explanation it can work. But if the recipe does offer some explanations, then they should be scientifically sound2. At least for the sake of my pseudo-science allergy (Uhh and that can be quite bad; rash, anger, uncontrolled laughing, shock reactions…).

When working in science, you get used to the typically analytical way of reasoning and thinking. You also get used to the way of scientific communication, usually in form of articles in scientific journals or presentations at scientific conferences. For non-scientists this can be very difficult to understand due to a rather technical language. If things become too specific, it even becomes hard to understand for scientists from other disciplines (or even to scientists from neighboring disciplines!). In addition, many of the scientific journals are not freely accessible, which can become quite an issue for both scientists and non-scientists. Subscription rates or downloads of individual articles can be incredibly expensive3.
It’s not all bad, though. More and more articles are published as open access articles. And there is a number of ways to access non open-access articles as well. If you come across an article that really sounds interesting but is not freely available, you could have a look if your nearest university library has access to this journal. Even non-university members can quite often make use of university libraries4. If the article of interest is not too old, you can also try to simply write one of the authors and briefly ask for an electronic copy. Scientific articles are not exactly bestsellers and most scientists are happy to see that someone is interested in their work!

Meanwhile I feel quite at home when searching through journals or libraries and really enjoy it a lot. So I’ll try to share some stuff I come across on this blog (let me know what you think). I’ll start with an article that was published last month in PLoS One, a respected open access journal5, by Goodson and others. The authors present that –surprisingly- tooth decay under 11 year old kids was less pronounced the more obese they were.

  1. Actually, many things cannot be scientific (such as some aspects of belief or philosophy, but also many emotional things), or should not be scientific (Wow, you really can spoil the perception of things like art, music, but also food by thinking too analytically). []
  2. Oh, another comment to that: a reasonable explanation does not need to be a ‘correct’ explanation. That’s often misunderstood: Science is not delivering ultimate truth. It is a way to approach the true mechanisms behind things (I know, truth is always a dangerous word to use in this context), and quite often that includes revising or discounting previous explanations (or models). []
  3. Many scientific journals ask for between 200-2000 US$ per year per journal. But some journals even ask for way more. This quickly becomes a huge sum for many smaller libraries… []
  4. At the UvA in Amsterdam, for example, you can simply get access to the library for around 30€ per year. []
  5. I very much like the idea of publishing open access, mainly because science is mostly paid by the public and should hence be freely available. In addition, many smaller universities and universities in poorer countries can really not afford to buy all necessary subscriptions. But over the last years an incredible number of new open access journals has popped up, and unfortunately many of those are super-crappy fake journals with the main or only reason to make money (because although accessing the articles is free, publishing an article does cost). []

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