When we teachers first get interested in research, we regularly hear this word of caution: “you should base your teaching on research — but be skeptical!”
Of course, we should be skeptical. But, like every skill, skepticism requires practice. And experience.
How can we best practice our skepticism?
The Company We Keep
Of course, the more time we spend listening to effective skeptics, the likelier we are to learn from their methodologies.
Many well-known sources frequently explore the strengths and weaknesses of research suggestions.
Dan Willingham regularly takes a helpfully skeptical view of research. (He’s also a regular, amusing twitter voice.)
Ditto The Learning Scientists.
Certainly this blog takes on the topic frequently.
Today, I’d like to add to your skepticism repertoire: Retraction Watch.
Unlike the other sources I mentioned, Retraction Watch doesn’t focus on education particularly. Instead, it takes in the full range of scientific research — focusing specifically on published research that has been (or should be?) retracted.
If you get in the habit of reading their blog, you’ll learn more about the ways that researchers can dissemble — even cheat — on their way to publication. And, the ways that their deceptions are unmasked.
You’ll also learn how much research relies on trust, and the way that such trust can be violated. That is: sometimes researchers retract their work when they learn a colleague — without their knowledge — fudged the data.
In brief, if you’d like to tune up your skepticism chops, Retraction Watch will help you do so.
And: the topic might sound a bit dry. But, when you get into the human stories behind the clinical sounding “retraction,” you’ll be fascinated.
Back in December, I wrote about another website that can help you see if a study has been cited, replicated, or contradicted. You can read about that here.