Investigate superbugs

How can you get information on resistant bacteria? There is a lot of material out there. In order to provide the information in a clear way we have divided it into three topics: Basic research, farming and medical care. Each category contains sources of information and explanations on each topic.

Detailfoto einer Studie zu Antibiotikaresistenz


Want to do some more research on your own? You can find scientific studies on PubMed, a comprehensive and easy to use database. PubMed is run by the American National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library. You can search by topic, keywords, or authors.

How to find studies

You can search, for example, “resistant antibiotic hospitals” and scientific studies on the issue will pop up. Each study is published by a scientific journal, which usually means that other scientists have double-checked the results and validity of the study. This process is called peer review.

The quality of the different journals varies. The most renowned journals, like Science, Nature, Nature Medicine, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), JAMA, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Lancet, only accept the best and most significant studies. Barriers for acceptance can be lower in other journals, but this doesn’t mean that the studies in them are less valid. In general, all published studies have to be scientifically correct.However, there are also what are known as predatory journals, or junk journals. They publish anything that resembles a scientific study and then demand money from the authors for publishing them. This kind of literature has very little value. One way of establishing the reputation of a scientific journal is to look for its impact factor. Most of the time this will be displayed on a journals website. The impact factor is based on the number of times an article in a journal is cited in other scientific journals. It is calculated by the commercial publisher Thompson Reuters and is not without its shortcomings, which have been frequently criticised. But at the time of writing a better system hadn’t been developed. As a general guide the impact factor is helpful when assessing a journals credibility.

Antibiotic consumption in Europe. Learn more

Getting access to the study

Sometimes a study is behind a paywall or not available to the general public. In these cases it is sometimes possible to get access through your local library or university. At the moment, many studies are only available if you pay for them – we’ll talk about this problem later. There are some who publish studies on a large scale on their own platforms in protest at this, however, be aware that at the moment this is illegal.

Most journals will give journalists free access. To get it, you usually have to sign up on the website of the journal (where it says Press or Media). You usually have to prove that you’re a journalist. It’s also possible to ask for access to a single study. And there are portals where you can see studies from different journals, and request access to them. The most important are Elsevier, EurekAlert and Nature Publishing Group.

You can also subscribe to get press releases, which will accompany almost all major studies. A press release has been crafted for journalists by press officers from the journal or the university where the study was carried out. While they can be helpful for those less familiar with reading scientific studies (because they break down the study into its key points), journalists tend to skip the press release and head straight for the article. This is because press officers often ‘spin’ the study to make it more interesting, and experienced science journalists do their best to be objective.

How to read a study

Detailfoto einer Tabelle mit Sparkline-Diagrammen


A medical study is separated into different parts, which we are going to explain now:


The abstract summarises the most important points of the study. Even if the study is not free of charge the abstract will still be available. This way, you get an overview of the contents of the study before deciding whether to buy it. Some journalists only read the abstract and then start writing about it, but beware: this is not a good idea, and important points contained in the study but not in the abstract are often missed.


In this chapter the authors outline what’s in the paper. They say why they carried out the study, and give an overview of previous research on this topic.


How was the research carried out? In this chapter, the author explains in detail how they proceeded, so that other researchers can understand how the research was structured and, ideally, repeat it.


The most important part. In this section, the authors present their data and the results. While you can skim-read the other sections if you’re in a hurry, this part should always be read carefully. Experts will sometimes start by reading the results section with the data tables and figures before reading the rest of the paper. The raw data is in this section, whereas the rest of the paper is always subject to the authors’ interpretation of the study – and, of course, they want to present their results in the best possible light.


In this section the authors interpret their results and address any weaknesses of the study. Like the introduction, this section is subject to the authors’ interpretation too and can be quite subjective. It is important to try and always question the statements made in this section.


This section is a collection of sources on which the study is based. It is very helpful to get to know about other important studies. In addition, it can help to identify more scientists writing on the topic.


This section lists the authors of the paper – there might be several. In biomedical studies, the first and the last names are most important. The first name on the list is the researcher who did the experimental work, and the last name is the professor or head of department. So in many cases, the first author is the one who worked the most on the study and the person mentioned last is their boss. The second author usually did almost as much work as the first author, while the penultimate author is the second most important supervisor. The authors appearing in the middle are therefore less important. If you have questions about the study, it’s usually best to ask the first or last author.

Sometimes this section will mention a corresponding author. In most cases, this is the last author mentioned. This person is responsible for answering questions about the study. His or her email address is always given on the web site. If you have trouble finding the email address of a researcher, you will usually find it in this section.