A Brief Interlude: The Scientific Literature That Is Cited Here


At this point, I want to make clear that the scientific work I cite in my posts is of the highest quality. It is not simply collated by using a popular search machine on the internet, or by briefly trawling through the scientific supplements of newspapers. I collected the information by looking up specialized databases, that list publications of research groups from all over the world. These articles were and are published by magazines that publish only material that was thoroughly reviewed by scientists who are experts in a particular field of knowledge. This type of close scrutiny by critical colleagues is called the peer review system. Very often the first version of a research article is sent back by the reviewers to the original authors, with remarks, questions, and criticism. Then it is revised and edited, and only then approval for publication is given. Also, authors of articles in the fields of medicine and biology have to write so-called declarations of interest in their publications, e.g. that they have an advisory role for a pharmaceutical company. This way, openness is guaranteed as to eventual conflicts of interest, or suspicions thereof – it will be clear that the absolute demand for scientific objectivity, and the subjective, possibly financial role of having to act on behalf of a third commercial party, can result in problematic personal dilemmas.  With a declaration of interest, the reader is fully informed of ‘what’s going on’, to cite famous soul singer Marvin Gaye.

Scientific magazines usually are rated on a citation index, a list where one can see which magazine is cited the most often in single publications. It goes like this: imagine an article that is cited as:

Laurel, S. and O. Hardy (1929): The degree of difficulty of selling a Christmas tree in the month of July. Nature, 12(3): 345-348.

The authors are named Laurel and Hardy, the year of publication is 1929, the title is given above, and the magazine is called ‘Nature’. The exact place in the magazine where the actual article appears is: Volume 12, Number 3, Pages 345-348. So if you should want to see that article, you should go to a scientific library, and ask the librarian for this particular publication. Of course, at present the internet is by far the most important entry into the databases of scientific magazines.

Not for nothing did I choose ‘Nature’ in my example. This is perhaps the most-cited magazine in the world, and therefore it is on top of the citation index. A select few magazines are ‘ahead of the pack’ for a long time now, we also have Science, Cell, and Neuron being rated very highly.

Well, after this rather long introduction I am arriving at what I want to explain here: here and there I cite names of authors in my texts, and the year in which a particular article of their hands was published. I will eventually list these articles in a separate list (as is tradition in all articles themselves), so that you can look up the sources of what I am stating here.

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