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I've been wanting to do some research on some quite controversial topics for a while now to stay educated on the common talking points of today, but every time I want to look at a research paper, I wonder whether the people who conducted the research are biased, or whether the journals are biased or whether the method that they used was flawed.

With the controversial topics, I tend to think that the researchers are generally more prone to skewing their results than if it wasn't a controversial topic. However, I'm still a big rookie at this, and I have no idea how to quickly ensure that the journals are legitimate, the researchers are legitimate, and they aren't biased etc. I don't want to spend all my time making sure that they're legitimate then not have time to actually look at the study itself.

Is there supposed to be some kind of method they teach in university or is it all self-learned? Because I'm not in university yet and university seems like the place where people start publishing papers and doing research for those papers, and also my country has mandatory enlistment for close to 2 years before I go to university, and it seems like a good time to do actual research on the topics I'm interested in so that I don't waste my time.

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  • Keep your wits about you, common sense is your friend, keep your mind and heart open. Advice, but not necessarily for scholarly success. Jul 1 at 3:51
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    There's no such thing as an unbiased researcher. We're all human.
    – astronat
    Jul 1 at 6:06
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    Also, I don't know why this was downvoted. I think the core question (how can a research novice differentiate between legitimate and "crackpot" research) is good and interesting.
    – astronat
    Jul 1 at 6:07
  • @astronat Bias meaning that the researcher isn't intentionally skewing the results. If the bias is unintentional, then I think chances are is that it would have less impact on the results.
    – prata
    Jul 1 at 6:40
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    Maybe not a dup, but seems very related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/130443/4249
    – penelope
    Jul 1 at 10:48
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Research (at least in the organized form taking place in academia) is a discussion taking place between various individuals. If you have a hard time assessing papers, the natural thing to do is to see what people interested in the same subject think.

Published papers (in reputable venues) have passed some form peer review, so that is a good sign. Sometimes the reviews are available and can point to potential problems or contentiuous aspects. Often, though, the reviews are not public. Then, the best way to find out what the community thinks is to find papers that cite the one you are interested in and see what they say about it. (I find it useful exercise to compare these writings with what I initially thought about a paper, I see it as a way to train myself to detect problematic points that I may have missed.) In particular, look out for comments on whether the findings could be replicated. Be aware though that blunt criticism is rare, and you may have to read between the lines.

The obvious caveat here is: what about new papers, or papers which have not been cited a lot? In the first case you can wait, in the second case that may implicitly contain some information, too (not that a paper is incorrect, but maybe more that it isn't incredibly interesting to the field).

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some kind of method they teach in university

Replication of the research is the correct way to verify research.

The more popular and cheaper method is to ask someone who has prior knowledge of the subject if the research looks correct. This is less reliable, but often good enough.

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