Finding the source of research news

A researcher at Washington State University had a role in some interesting news that came out yesterday. We published a great writeup: “Major study documents benefits of organic farming“. Newcastle University published a release: “New study finds significant differences between organic and non-organic food“. Large news organizations such as The Guardian and The New York Times provided a good digestion of the results.

Alas, a comment on Hacker News summed up my feelings on many of these:

There is no link to the paper or a preprint of the article.

Often when I read news like this, I want to dive in and at least skim the published research. But this is where our various content management systems break down the most.

Even though this paper is licensed under the very open Creative Commons CC by 3.0, which allows me to share and even build on the material as long as I provide proper attribution—it’s a horrible process to find.

At WSU News, our article included contact information for the researcher but no direct link to the paper or even the primary university’s release. In Newcastle’s release, a page is linked to that actually includes the full text of the paper, but the name doesn’t match the title and is a somewhat confusing experience. This is much better than many, as the paper is at least accessible. In the New York Times, the article links to the abstract at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This abstract has a link for the full text at Cambridge Journals Online, where it isn’t actually published yet but will be on July 15th. The Guardian provides a way, but uses the words “several academic websites” to link to two different places. One is the same NCBI abstract the NYT links to. The other is at Research Gate, which actually has a link to the full paper but includes a really confusing order form in the first two pages of the PDF so that you aren’t actually sure what you’re looking at.

The best page I’ve found yet is actually another at WSU. Chuck Benbrook, the researcher involved with the study, published an article that links to a full page of resources, including the full text of the paper and supplemental data.

I guess the most discouraging part of this is the wide open license on the paper. It gets much harder to track things down when a paper is published in a paid journal. I’m lucky in that I work for a university. If I want access to a paper, there is likely a way. The process can be confusing though, especially if you aren’t used to the required jumping around.

To be clear, this is not a gripe on anyone writing the articles. It is a gripe on those of us creating the systems that manage this content.

The part I’m going to push for at WSU is a way to attach source data to these articles in a clear way. Every time an article is written about a piece of research, that research should have a clear space on the page—in the same spot every time—that provides instructions or direct access to a document.

And with that.

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Baranski, M., D. Srednicka-Tober, N. Volakakis, C. Seal, R. Sanderson, G. B. Stewart, C. Benbrook, B. Biavati, E. Markellou, C. Giotis, J. Gromadzka-Ostrowska, E. Rembiałkowska, K. Skwarło-Son, R. Tahvonen, D. Janovska, U. Niggli, P. Nicot and C. Leifert.

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