Research is a notoriously vague occupation. It has more in common with gathering than hunting, and so inevitably has as much support as opposition. Researchers of all types will probably tell you that there is no substitute for putting the hours in and, of course, knowing where and how to look. These skills are undoubtedly useful when wanting to find more information on a subject as wide as lipids. In researching something in the 21st Century, our first port of call is typically Google, or, when in dire straits, an on-line encyclopaedia that is best left unnamed. As a source of information on lipids I cannot speak highly enough of this blog of course, but even it cannot contain everything. So, what if you need to go further?
There is a huge wealth of what is known as primary literature. These are original research papers that have been published in peer-reviewed journals*. What this means is that a scientist, or more usually a group of scientists, has written up some experimental work typically in a format of several sides of A4 long. This is submitted to a scientific journal, who send it to anonymous reviewers, who then send back comments. Assuming that the reviewers are not out of their depth, and the authors are professional about the process, the manuscript will be modified by the authors and resubmitted. If it is then thought suitable, it is accepted for publication. A large number of articles are accepted every month, these are published in sets (issues). As one may imagine issues are bound together to make up volumes.
The wealth of information in the primary literature is undoubtedly a hugely important one. It is often not necessarily difficult to find journals that are focussed on lipids; indeed there are a number focussed in this area, but there are some limits to this source of information. Unfortunately, such journals can be difficult to obtain access to if readers are not members of subscribing institutions (Universities etc.). Additionally, finding the right papers can be difficult for non-specialists: it is as easy to get bogged down as it is to miss crucial works. A more readily accessed, and smaller body of work, is the secondary literature.
Secondary literature is the term commonly used to refer to books on a given subject. A quick search on Amazon readily reveals the abundance of lipid literature that is available. Inevitably some titles can be picked up for almost nothing, a nominal £0.01 plus postage, and can allow one to put together a library of sorts on this subject with little effort. Although they are mostly titles resulting from investigative analyses of fat or lipid components of food – trans fats, cholesterol and so on – they provide a source of practical information. Others are perhaps a bit less scientific – for example, some seek to draw a distinction between good and bad fat, and another that appears to purport the belief that lipids form an important part of slowing the ageing process.
There is much in the mid-range but if you are feeling rather rich, educational and scientific books about lipids with much smaller print runs, but much more reliable information, are also available. At current prices, a little over £800 can buy you a copy of Lipid Research Methodology from 1984. Although now probably superseded in all principle tenements, it provides a good historical view of lipid chemistry. A newer book for a mere snip over £900 is The Chemistry of Oils and Fats. If you feel you have more spare money than can be sated by even those, around £1,700 can buy you a treatise on lipid microbiology and for a little more than £3,000 a thorough guide to the mass spectra of lipids is available (!).
You may be comforted to know that few lipid chemists have any such titles, either in the laboratory, or at home. Larger scientific reference libraries may do better, but as the subject of lipids is wide, taking in aspects of biology, chemistry and physics at least, you may prefer to find the right person to ask, instead. And you will be pleased to hear that Google is as good for that as anything else.
*Although non-peer reviewed journals are available, these typically have little value in scientific circles as the work published is not subjected to the rigorous scrutiny afforded by peer-reviewed journals to their issues.
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