How scientific training ruined non-scientific publications (for me)

Books by az

I find it hard nowadays to enjoy non-fiction publications that are written by authors who are not scientists.

More precisely, I get a little furious every time an author talks about a study, a survey or any type of data without providing a reference.

In scientific publications, authors generally, if not always, provide a reference to the source of the data they mention in the very sentence in which they make a mention of it. Should the reader wish to learn more about the data, how it was obtained and what conclusions it led to, it is easy to do so. The reference, which often follows the (author year : page #) format, guides the reader in the bibliography. In this golden mine of information, one can also discover more relevant literature on the topic, and select further reading material to feed his or hers insatiable thirst for knowledge.

After years of training in anthropology, I may not consider myself half the academic I want to become, but good old scientific standards have gained a special place in my heart. They are rather attractive to anyone with slight OCD tendencies.

Sadly, however, non-fiction writers too often neglect not only to provide clear references to the research they mention, but also to include a bibliography in their book itself. So when they write, for instance, that ”according to a survey, 20% of people sleep well at night”, I cannot help but ask myself these questions:

  • Who conducted the survey in question?
  • How many people took part in the survey?
  • Where and when did the survey take place?
  • Was the research methodology sound?
  • To what extent can the results be considered valid?
  • Does that research even exist, if the author can’t bother to give me the title of a paper?

What am I supposed to do? Have blind faith in people’s honesty?

I don’t think so.

Still, the non-fiction book I am reading right now is pretty great.

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