How Science Works: Evaluating Evidence in Biology and Medicine

How Science Works: Evaluating Evidence in Biology and Medicine

How Science Works: Evaluating Evidence in Biology and Medicine

How Science Works: Evaluating Evidence in Biology and Medicine

Synopsis

One week, red wine is good for the heart. The next week, new reports say it's bad for the health. So which is true? Anyone who's ever read science news with fascination, or who's ever been confounded by conflicting stories will appreciate this book. Taking a look at some true to life contemporary news stories, the author assesses recent studies on topics ranging from vitamin C and caffeine to pollution and cancer. With straight talk and a passion for the whole project of science, he demysifies the cult of the expert and sheds light on the nitty-gritty details of scientific processes. Any scientist loves a challenge, but the biggest challenge of all, observes Jenkins, is shared by scientists and nonscientitsts alike: how to make practical decisions in light of ambiguous evidence. Promising no simple answers, this book does offer excellent food for thought for people pondering that next glass of wine.

Excerpt

I am probably a fairly typical science faculty member at a medium-sized public university in a small state without an ocean as one of its borders. I teach undergraduate classes, I do research with graduate students, and I publish articles in technical journals on moderately esoteric topics. Until recently, I never imagined that I would want to write a book. But I've long been interested in the details of the scientific process, from its philosophical underpinnings to general issues of experimental design to aspects of modeling and statistical analysis. I should emphasize that my interests in these topics are those of a practicing scientist, not of an authority on philosophy or statistics.

In all of my teaching, including beginning biology classes for undergraduates, I've always emphasized depth rather than breadth. I like to talk about the details of a few key studies, including their assumptions, methods, limitations, and implications for future work, rather than summarizing results from a large number of studies. Several years ago, I was asked to develop a core course in research design for graduate students in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology at the University of Nevada, Reno. This further kindled my interest in diverse aspects of the scientific process, especially because researchers in these fields use a wide range of methods to answer questions. I developed a large bibliography in fields ranging from philosophy to psychology and from traditional to fairly arcane aspects of statistics. I shared this bibliography with my students, sometimes to their amazement at the obscure references I had found, sometimes to their consternation that there was so much to be learned.

Teaching must be one of the most rewarding professions because it involves a lifetime of opportunities to influence people in small ways and large.

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