A journal club (JC) is a group of people who get together to critically evaluate articles in the academic literature. One person typically provides a summary and review of an article, while the group chimes in with comments, questions, and criticisms. In a nutshell, JC is an autopsy (literally translated as a “seeing with one’s own eyes”): a personal observation, a form of postmortem examination. There’s often more to the story than just the abstract.
I had the luxury/privilege of being part of great journal clubs during my residency at Johns Hopkins and even more so during my time at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in both medical school and, later, as a postdoctoral fellow. Some of my greatest insights into the limitations and strengths of science came from these meetings.
Our Journal Club is no different, except that it’s virtual—we’ll always be the “presenter,” and there won’t be any donuts or stale coffee. The purpose of our JC is to continually improve our ability to analyze and interpret research and share this with the community. This should help us all on our quest to be more Feynman-like…
What can JC do for you? It can help you:
- critically appraise published clinical research literature;
- cultivate a better understanding of the research process;
- develop a world-class BS detector for virtually anything the media has to say about “science”;
- learn more about how research is conducted;
- assimilate and provide summaries of landmark papers in the fields of performance, health, longevity, and the philosophy and practice of scientific methods;
- receive insights from the community; and
- challenge your thinking and the thinking of those around you.
Journal Club Template
We generally follow the 20/80 rule in JC:
- 20% covering the 5Ws (and How) from the author’s perspective:
- Who (e.g., investigators, subjects) was involved?
- What (e.g., methods, results) happened?
- Where (e.g., settings, the type of study) did it take place?
- When (e.g., the year and length of the study) did it take place?
- Why (e.g., the motivation for the study) did that happen?
- How (e.g., proposed mechanisms, author’s explanations) did it happen?
- 80% covering our 3Cs (Criteria, Critique, and Conclusion):
- Criteria: Did the article meet our elementary standards of good science and reporting?
- Critique: What are the strengths and limitations of this article?
- Conclusion: Do we accept the author’s conclusions? Why did we choose this article? What can we learn from this JC?
Journal Club Outline
In practice, our outline is generally as follows:
- Motivation (Why)
- Design (Who, Where, and When)
- Results, Discussion, and Conclusion (What and How)
Journal Club is not a solo act. It takes a community of engaged individuals. They don’t call it journal club for nothing. The first rule of
Fight Journal Club is, you are permitted, if not encouraged, to discuss it broadly. And so, our fellow JCers, as a wise man might say: ask not what your Journal Club can do for you—ask what you can do for your Journal Club.
Stay tuned for our first JC article. If you have any suggestions for a paper to dissect, please post to comments.