How to read a scientific paper
作者：Adam Ruben 翻译：一只思考问题的熊
Nothing makes you feel stupid quite like reading a scientific journal article.
I remember my first experience with these ultra congested and aggressively bland manuscripts so dense that scientists are sometimes caught eating them to stay regular. I was in college, taking a seminar course in which we had to read and discuss a new paper each week. And something just wasn’t working for me.
Every week I would sit with the article, read every single sentence, and then discover that I hadn’t learned a single thing. I’d attend class armed with exactly one piece of knowledge: I knew I had read the paper. The instructor would ask a question; I'd have no idea what she was asking. She’d ask a simpler question; still no idea. But I’d read the damn paper!
It reminded me of kindergarten, when I would feel proud after reading a book above my grade level. But if you had asked me a simple question about the book’s contents—What kind of animal is Wilbur? How did Encyclopedia Brown know that Bugs Meany wasn’t really birdwatching?—I couldn't have answered it.
这让我想起了在幼儿园的日子，那时每当我读完一本超过自己所在年级水平的书时，我都感觉非常傲娇，可如果你问我一个关于书本内容的简单问题，比如Wilbur是一种什么动物（译者注：Wilbur是美国作家E. B.White 所写Charlotte's Web一书中的角色，是一头小猪）、Encyclopedia Brown如何知道Bugs Meany不是真的在赏鸟（译者注：Encyclopedia Brown是Encyclopedia Brown系列丛书的主人公，他的名字是LeroyBrown，因为非常聪明和博学所以人们都叫他Encyclopedia百科全书，而Bugs Meany则是这本书里的反派头目），我却回答不出来。
A few weeks into the seminar, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to read another paper without understanding it. So I took that week’s journal article to the library. Not just the regular library, but the obscure little biology library, one of those dusty academic hidey-holes only populated by the most wretched forms of life, which are, of course, insects and postdocs.
I placed the paper on a large empty desk. I eliminated all other distractions. To avoid interruptions from friends encouraging alcohol consumption, as friends do in college, I sat in an obscure ante room with no foot traffic. To avoid interruptions from cellphone calls, I made sure it was 1999.
Most importantly, if I didn’t understand award in a sentence, I forbade myself from proceeding to the next sentence until I looked it up in a textbook and then reread the sentence until it made sense.
I specifically remember this happening with the word “exogenous.” Somehow I had always glossed over this word, as though it was probably unimportant to its sentence. Wrong.
It took me more than 2 hours to read a three-page paper. But this time, I actually understood it.
And I thought, “Wow. I get it. I really get it.”
And I thought, “Oh crap. I’m going to have to do this again, aren’t I?”
If you’re at the beginning of your careering science, you may be struggling with the same problem. It may help you to familiarize yourself with the 10 Stages of Reading a Scientific Paper:
Optimism. “This can’t be too difficult, "you tell yourself with a smile—in the same way you tell yourself, “It’s not damaging to drink eight cups of coffee a day” or “There are plenty of tenure-track jobs.” After all, you’ve been reading words for decades. And that’s all a scientific paper is, right? Words?
Fear. This is the stage when you realize, “Uh … I don’t think all of these are words.” So you slow down a little. Sound out the syllables, parse the jargon, look up the acronyms, and review your work several times. Congratulations: You have now read the title.
Regret. You begin to realize that you should have budgeted much more time for this whole undertaking. Why, oh why, did you think you could read the article in a single bus ride? If only you had more time. If only you had one of those buzzer buttons from workplaces in the 1960s, and you could just press it and say, “Phoebe, cancel my January.” If only there was a compact version of the same article, something on the order of 250 or fewer words, printed in bold at the beginning of the paper…
Corner-cutting. Why, what’s this? An abstract, all for me? Blessed be the editors of scientific journals who knew that no article is comprehensible, so they asked their writers to provide, a la Space balls, "the short, short version.” Okay. Let’s do this.
Bafflement. What the hell? Was that abstract supposed to explain something? Why was the average sentence 40 words long? Why were there so many acronyms? Why did the authors use the word “characterize” five times?
Distraction. What if there was, like, a smartphone for ducks? How would that work? What would they use it for? And what was that Paul Simon lyric, the one from “You Can Call Me Al,”? How would your life change if you owned a bread maker? You’d have to buy yeast. Is yeast expensive? You could make your own bread every few days, but then it might go stale. It’s not the same as store-bought bread; it’s just not. OH, right! Is Paul Simon still alive? You should check Wikipedia. Sometimes you confuse him with Paul McCartney or Paul Shaffer. Can you put coffee in a humidifier?
分心。如果有给鸭子用的手机会怎么样？它该如何工作呢？鸭子们会拿它干什么？Paul Simon那首歌词里“You Can Call Me Al，”是什么意思？如果有一台面包机，你的人生将如何改变？首先你得去买酵母，那酵母贵么？每隔几天你就能给自己做点面包，但之后面包可能会变质。它和商店里买来的面包不一样，是的，不一样。哦，对了，Paul Simon还活着么？你应该查查维基百科，你有时候会把他和Paul McCartney或者 Paul Shaffer搞混。还有，你能把咖啡放到加湿器里么？
Realization that 15 minutes have gone by and you haven’t progressed to the next sentence.
Determination. All righty. Really goanna read this time. Really goanna do it. Yup, yuppers,yup-a-roo, read in 'words is what you do. Let’s just point those pupils at the dried ink on the page, and …
Rage. HOW COULD ANY HUMAN BRAIN PRODUCE SUCH SENTENCES?
Genuine contemplation of a careering the humanities. Academic papers written on nonscientific subjects are easy to understand, right? Right?
What a strange document a scientific journal article is. We work on them for months or even years. We write them in a highly specialized vernacular that even most other scientists don’t share. We place them behind a paywall and charge something ridiculous, like $34.95, for the privilege of reading them. We so readily accept their inaccessibility that we have to start “journal clubs” in the hopes that our friends might understand them and summarize them for us.
Can you imagine if mainstream magazine articles were like science papers? Picture a Time cover story with 48 authors. Or a piece in The Economist that required, after every object described, a parenthetical listing of the company that produced the object and the city where that company is based. Or a People editorial about JimmyKimmel that could only be published following a rigorous review process by experts in the field of Jimmy Kimmel.
你能想象如果主流杂志的文章都像科学论文会怎样么？Time的封面文章有48个作者，或者The Economist里就算只占一小块页面面积的文章，在描述完每一个物品之后都需要一个附加说明来介绍生产该物品的公司以及公司地址，再或者People一篇关于JimmyKimmel（译者注：美国的一位脱口秀主持人）的文章只有在经过研究Jimmy Kimmel同领域专家的严格审查之后才可以发表。
Do you know what you’d call a magazine article that requiredintellectualscrutiny? You’d call it a badly written article.
So for those new to reading journals, welcome. Good luck. And we’re sorry. We're trying to write articles comprehensibly, but sometimes our subdisciplineis so hyper specific that we need a million acronyms. And sometimes we’re attempting to sound like good scientists by copying the tone of every article we’ve read. And sometimes we’re just writing badly.
Quack berry. That’s what you’d call the smartphone for ducks.
Quack berry。这就是你对为鸭子生产的手机的称呼。（译者注：Quack berry 是作者创造的词汇，其中quack形容呱呱叫，暗指鸭子， berry则来自知名的Blackberry黑莓手机。）.