Why do you only post limericks?

1. Because limericks are fun.

2. Because if I didn’t put myself under strict constraints, I would end up writing an essay instead, and then I would never get around to posting anything.

3. Because I want you to go read the original paper.

Playing telephone has been a problem in writing about science and other research for decades – there’s long been a tendency, especially among non-specialists (but also sometimes in the field), to base your summary on someone else’s summary on someone else’s summary until it’s sixty years before someone thinks to check the original article and discover that it didn’t say what the first person thought it said.

The internet simultaneously makes this easier – people will reblog something until I have to follow a chain back through a dozen links before I find someone who even mentions the name of the scientist – and less excusable. Because so often (especially with high-publicity discoveries!) the original research is right there for anyone to look at. And we should break the habit of thoughtlessly repeating the distorted whispers, and learn to go look for the original sources before we spread it on, and learn that getting information from the original paper really isn’t that scary.

So go read a peer-reviewed paper! And next time you’re reblogging a story about some cool new discovery, trace back as close as you can to the original source before you pass it on.

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