Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Data

     Scientific writing is argumentative. This is explored by Christopher Gillen, a professor of biology at Kenyon College, in his essay “The Data Suggests” Writing in the Sciences. He says scientists make and defend claims addressing disagreements and exploring unanswered questions. There is room for advancing earlier theories and rejecting others.
     Writing in a scientific way does more than just report facts. With any new data, scientists assess the data quality, draw conclusions and weigh their implications. The data cannot be handled in solo but is synthesized with other information that exists on the topic. Scientific progress depends on insight and creativity and after all data is processed, weighed, argued and synthesized, it helps us to understand the world better.
      Data, data, data…and more data is what helps scientists develop hypotheses and then test these comparing their predictions to new experimental data. Data interpretation is different, so describing data opens a door to critical analysis, creating opportunities to critique previous interpretations and develop new ones.
     The quality of data varies depending on the way it is collected. It is therefore important to explain the methods used to collect data. Scientific data come in numbers. To help readers understand the data, scientists make comparisons with values from the same study or from other similar work. Any qualitative data must be described precisely with words.
     Once summaries are made on experiments and results, there is the need to say what the data mean. Scientific consensus comes about when multiple studies point towards the same conclusion. Firstly, statements made by scientists on their methods and results, must be accepted. Second statement does not question but examine how the findings are interpreted. The integral part of the scientific process is expressing a critical view about someone else’s work.
Agree with a difference
Even with agreement, there are ways to join the discussion like suggesting further work.
  Disagreements come about with which techniques are most appropriate, how to test hypotheses and ways of interpretation.
Okay, but…
  New work may make better or extend previous work but does not often completely overturn it.
Anticipate objections
  Prior to explanations being accepted, scientists demand convincing evidence and assess whether alternative explanations have been explored.
Say why it matters
  Thinking of the broad significance of a study, one has to consider both the practical applications and the impact on future works.
In short, writing science presents a choice to add ones argument to an ongoing discussion.
     The writing I have done so far has been majorly on claim, evidence and analysis. This remains a standard way of writing because in my field of study the claim has to be stated for example, poor eating habits is a major cause of obesity. The evidence will be in the data collected and then the analysis will be in assessment of the evidence. Therefore, whether it is writing pop culture or science, the facts have to be there- “they say”; the facts have to be interpreted- “I say”; and then the argument can be raised about the whole meaning.

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