The discussion section

Scientific studies tend to follow the same logical structure. Introduction, theory, method, results, discussion, conclusion. Easy-peasy. Sometimes the sections have other names or are merged together, e.g., “Discussion and concluding remarks”, and for the less serious journals (such as PNAS), they save the methodology for the footnote-size section at the end of the paper.

I was skimming throug the paper The Health of London in the Eighteenth Century. The paper was published in 1925. What I like about old papers like these is to see how they are structured. If you look at the discussion section in the paper, you do see a a generic discussion about the implications and limitations of the study. Instead, you get the comments made by other scientists. I would like to see this today. Why not let the peer-reviewers of the papers or the most critical people write the discussion section before publication?

The problem with most discussion sections nowadays is that they discuss limitations that are not really limitations. Either the limitations are very small and irrelevant or very big yet obvious limitations (“this study is not a randomised controlled trial”). The problem is that researchers ofte omit the biggest limitations in case the reviewers might use these points to make a negative review.

Accordingly, the discussion section should only be written after a paper has been formally accepted for publication in a journal. And in collaboration with the reviewers, and preferably with a comment section where other people can tip in with comments and feedback.