Sunday, September 18, 2016

How to perform research....

Why do we need research? 
For myself, it is a scholarly inquiry, curiosity, and the desire to learn more about the world. I want to be able to discuss issues in the mustang community in a voice that is backed by as much research as I can find.

Research is not perfect, scientists aren't always truthful and fudge their data (read up on the Fat vs. Big Sugar issue, a recent discovery that changed the way we view the relative nutrition of fatty foods.). A lot of research is funded by grants, (money) and the grants come from big companies. The companies, in turn, have agendas and sometime scientist may tweak data to please their benefactors to get more grants. There are also predatory journals which publish articles that are not scholarly or scientific so just because you see someone "published," it may not mean much (more about those journals later).

If you find a lot of studies that say the same thing over and over (vaccines are safe and not to linked autism) and one study that conflicts with those studies (vaccines cause autism). It might be prudent to err on the side of the majority and conclude vaccines do NOT cause autism (and the author of the 'vaccines cause autism study 'admitted he made up his data- he lied). Most data is scientifically rigorous, subject to strict rules and regulations including behavior regarding human and animal subjects in research. This committee is called the "Institutional Review Board".

The IRB: Every University or college that conducts must have an Institutional Review Board (IRB) which oversees the subjects in research whether human or animal. The rules are very strict and this group reviews EVERY proposed study. If you want to know more, Google the university name and IRB. You'll find a ton of information regarding animal handling, care, and what is acceptable and humane. They have links to report studies you think are behaving in an unethical manner however you must have first hand knowledge of the behavior and you need proof. You can't use a recycled photo of a horse with sutures/staples along the animal's flank claiming this study is harmful. Remember, a university may not agree with your definition of ethical. I picked Montana State University as an example, please take a look. (

Research is the foundation of the scientific community, it drives our quest for knowledge and provides answers to questions. It allows you to make a statement "Fast Thoroughbreds win races" and back it with over one hundred studies conducted at universities all over the world, not to mention horses races all over the world as well. (I have a rescued off the track Thoroughbred, he is not fast hence why he's home stuffing himself full of lush grass).

Some studies discover things that are directly opposite other studies. It may seem that no one has answers, but that is also the appeal of research. Be curious, ask questions, never stop learning.

How does one conduct research? It's not as challenging as you might think. You need scientific sources usually in the form of research articles published in reputable scholarly journals. How do I know so much about research? I spent the past three years studying research for my doctoral degree. My research was on cervical cancer screening intervals, but I learned a lot about research in general. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology, nursing, and a Masters in Nursing in addition to a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. My husband is an environmental educator (herpetology), and he has worked for US Fish & Wildlife, the Peace Corps, and is an expert on wildlife conservation. I hope you find this blog post educational as well as entertaining.
-Dr. Meredith Hudes-Lowder

First, you must begin with a question. We will look at the lethal white syndrome as an example later on. The best place to start is Google Scholar. You can use plain Google, but if you're looking for research studies, it's a better place to start your search. Go to Google and type in Scholar, this will take you to Google Scholar

Now you need keywords- words that will help refine your search on your topic. You'll need to be as accurate as possible to narrow the search field. Sometimes the keywords are terms you may not agree with such as the keyword “feral” for wild horses, but it is a scientific term used to describe wild horses. Use different but similar words like horse, stallion, band, herd, mare, foal, wild, feral, mustang, equine, equid, behavior, ethology; you get the idea. Once you get an article that deals with your topic, the authors often provide keywords for their article, and this can help you find better keywords to refine your search efforts along with the titles of the articles themselves.

Remember, all you need is one or two decent studies published on your topic in the past five years or so to seed your research studies. From those studies, the reference list at the end of each article is a treasure trove of other articles related to your search. Other useful types of articles are systematic reviews, meta-analysis, or an integrative review. These studies are reviews of a lot of other studies. A “Systematic Review of the Temperament of Chestnut Horses” would be a study examining a lot of other studies on chestnut horse temperament. It's a summary of the available research and very useful to find. Some of the journal publishing groups will allow you to view the abstract AND will list all the articles that used that article in their study. The “cited by…” is an excellent tool and is often a springboard to other articles related to your topic. Sometimes the web page will ‘suggest’ other studies based on your search terms/keywords. (See the research example below). Use systematic review or open access in your searches.

Abstracts without the full study. As you perform research, you may find there is a fee to view the whole article. Some research is Open Access and the author/publisher posts the full version visible to everyone; some journals are private.  Unless you are affiliated (work for a university, you are a student and have access to a university library), you may not be able to read the whole article. The abstract is an excellent starting point it's a summary of the study and gives a quick overview of to what the researchers discovered in their study. If you can't get the full article, the abstract gives you a general idea of the findings of the study and is meaningful.

If you are lucky enough to have an entire article to read, I usually start with the abstract, then the background and significance, followed by the discussion/conclusion. I like to know what the researchers found before I read through the methods, data analysis, and results sections. A lot of numbers gives me the willies, and as much as I love research, I get headaches when there are a lot of tables of numbers. If you want to research and do a decent job, learn the basics of research. Invest in few good books on research and a beginner’s guide to statistics. Most data are analyzed using statistics, and a basic knowledge is useful. (Note that the word data is plural in scientific research).

Journals: Size does matter
Journals: How do you know if a journal is respected and scholarly? It is pretty simple, the number of citations. A citation is a reference or footnote where the author of one article quotes or takes excerpts from another article. They are usually written as (Hudes-Lowder, 2016) or add a number to the sentence. Hudes-Lowder said all Thoroughbreds are great horses1 . This number or article referenced can usually be found at the end of the paper or the bottom of the page if it is a footnote. Unless a citation is enclosed in quotes,  the author is paraphrasing the results of another research study. 

If a research article is good, people will use it as a reference in their paper, so articles with a lot of citations are considered good research.  How can you find this magic number? The impact factor is defined as the number of citations,  go to the Web of Science ( and you'll be able to locate the journal’s “impact factor.”  Type in the name of a journal and see the impact factor. The higher the number, the more citations found for articles in that journal. Most journals are between 0.5-5 although a few medical journals in medicine have an impact factor greater than forty. It is not a perfect system, but it does offer a way to quantify research. Be a research snob, only use the best journalsand well cited articles!

What are peer reviewed journals? By strict definition, a peer-reviewed journal is one in which the submitted articles are reviewed by “peers” in your chosen field of science. For example, a nursing journal is reviewed by other nurses.  The term “peer” is a bit of misnomer because the review board members are regarded as experts in their field and not necessarily on the same scientific or academic level as new graduate right out of a Masters level program. However, peer-reviewed journals are more scholarly, and therefore better than non-peer reviewed journals since the submitted articles are jJudged by a panel of experts. The exception to this type of peer review are the predatory pay- er-publication journals, but we will talk about those later.

Scholarly vs. Predatory Pay-per-Publication Journals 
A well-known 'wildlife ecologist' n the mustang community published a paper (2014) in the Journal of Life Science. Curious, I looked up the journal’s impact factor but could not find any reference to this journal. I went to the journals website and found it was a member of the Science Publishing Group. Claiming to be peer reviewed, this group publishes journals, none of which were familiar. Immediately, I became suspicious that this was a predatory pay-per-publication journal. There is a website that tracks these journals that essentially publish anything for a fee. The peers who review the submitted journals are often fictions or scientists with no standing in the scientific community. 

These journals have no credibility, no academic or scientific value, and they are regarded as jokes by most scientists. Only very desperate scientists and people who were dismissed from colleges, universities, and research labs publish in these journals. To the average person who doesn't know much about research, it looks prestigious to see an article published peer-review viewed journal but remember, not all journals are equal. They are called predatory because they prey on recent graduates who may have trouble publishing and may not know these journals are disreputable.  While I was in school, I regularly received emails from predatory journals and universities warn students about them early in most programs. 

Along with poor quality journals, avoid articles published in magazines like Time. Time magazine utilizes decent research, but you should review the reference list at the end of the article. The same applies to a newspaper, ANYTHING you read online, Wikipedia, people who quote or cite themselves, and always remember to question everything. Just because it is online, that doesn't mean it is true and check citations. People can write anything and claim it came from a source, but you should check the actual source.  Even reputable scholarly journals can be fooled by research so keep an open mind and be curious. You'd be surprised how much false information is on the Internet especially in the mustang advocacy.

Here are some humorous posts regarding the Science Publishing Group…

Remember if an article you are reading comes from a journal that asks for money to publish and offers 50% off your first article; it's best to 'move along, these are not the journals you are looking for'.
-Dr Hudes-Lowder

Books are available online or in libraries, and these can be used for research. For scientific research, it is best to avoid ‘self-published’ books from Blurb or CreateSpace or similar self-publishers. It's not to say these books are without merit, but they are usually not shining examples of rigorous scientific inquiry. Otherwise, they would have been picked up by a publishing house. Many represent the view of the author and not necessarily hard science, so it's probably best to leave the conspiracy theorists on the shelf when conducting serious or scholarly research. 

Research example:
I decided to research lethal white syndrome as an example because it appears in mustang populations and I am fascinated by coat color inheritance. It is an inherited condition and as the name state, lethal in newborn foals. There is a blog post about this condition here.

I went to Google Scholar and typed “lethal white horse foal genetics” and the fifth link looked the best with not a lot of biochemistry or complex genetics terms.  “Lethal white foals in matings of overo spotted horses.” Even though my science strengths are ethology (animal behavior), genetics, and medicine, I find some articles have titles I cannot grasp at first glance. I like articles with titles I comprehend immediately, with this in mind- I selected the fifth link. Clicking on the link takes me here:

The journal  Theriogenology has a respectable impact factor of 1.798 (2014/2015) and is published by Science Direct which is well regarded in the scientific community.  The author has a Ph.D. which is important because it means he worked for a minimum of two and as many as six years at a university performing research and learning how to write for scientific publications. At the bottom of the page is ‘Citing Articles,' in this case, there are 13 listed. Scrolling down the page, we find citing articles (light blue circle), recommended articles (pink circle) and note the small PDF icon (circled in yellow with an arrow). The recommended articles are based on your keywords and similarity to the article about the lethal white syndrome.

The PDF icon (also document or text icon) is great to find. This means the article is free and you can download it. I usually recommend downloading any article you can in your topic. The reference section at the back of each article is also an excellent resource. Create a folder with your research topic as the folder name and download all articles and abstracts to that folder. A good recommendation is to save the file with the title of the article rather than the alphanumerics that is usually the filename - otherwise, you'll have fifteen articles without titles, and you'll end up having to open each one to find the article you were looking for. 

Once you have the article or the abstract on a particular topic, print them out. Now, sit down with a large cup of coffee and at least five highlighters in different colors, a four color pen and read. Highlight things that make sense and get a feel for the study and what authors found in their research. Keep a legal pad hand and write the author(s)and the date of the study- then summarize.  If you plan to publish your spectacular research online, download a copy of "EndNotes" ( and use it to format your word processor in a scholarly fashion It puts in your citations and formats your reference section. It's free and wonderful. It will format for APA, MLA, and AMA as well as other recognized scientific formats.

I sincerely hope this blog was useful, if you have questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.


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