BI 101 Southeast: Reliable Science Information
Types of science information
You probably already know that there is a lot of really bad science information floating around. Social media and web sources share "research" which shows that vaccines cause autism (they don't), that climate change is a hoax (it isn't), even that the world is flat (really?!). Most recently, watch out for terrible misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19.
On the nightly news, you might hear something incredible, such as a new research study showing that Hot Chocolate May Prevent Memory Decline. The research behind these stories might be good, but untrained journalists summarizing it may not understand the research, or are sensationalizing the findings. Politicians also spread bad science, either out of ignorance or an effort to make a political point. See FactCheck.org's list of recent false or misleading scientific claims by politicians: SciCheck
For your environmental issues assignment, you need to find credible science research from web sites and library databases. These are the formats of information you will probably use:
- Credible magazines, news sources and web sites. These are written for the general public, and will summarize the results of scientific research studies.
- Peer reviewed research articles. These are written by the scientists who conducted the research. The articles are written for an audience of other scientists.
This page has information about the different formats of science information that you will be finding, evaluating and using for your assignment.
Types of Articles
There are many different types of articles. The chart below can help you figure out which type(s) you're looking for or identify an article you've already found:
|News articles provide the most current information. Certain newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, are also known for thoughtful, in-depth analyses of important topics and events.|
|Popular magazine articles can help you generate ideas about issues, controversies, or unanswered questions about a topic, which you might want to explore further. They sometimes refer to studies or scholarly work that you can track down for more information.|
|Trade publications are written by and for professionals within an industry. These are an excellent source of very specific information from inside the field.|
|Scholarly journal articles go through a process of peer review before they are published. They are written by experts in the field (the people with letters after their name!) and their purpose is to advance the ongoing body of work within the discipline. These articles might present original research data and findings, or take a position on a key question within the field. They can be difficult to read, because their intended audience is other experts and academics, but they are at the top of the line when it comes to authoritative information.|
Peer reviewed articles -- the basics
First, watch this three minute video to understand the basics of peer review. Then follow the link under the video to learn some essential tips for reading and understanding a peer reviewed article.
Peer reviewed articles are very credible, and also VERY HARD to read and understand. Review these tips from Utah State University to make the process easier: How to Read a Scientific Article.
Evaluating science information
Peer reviewed research is highly credible but very difficult for the non-scientist to understand. Science information found online is easier to understand, but may not be credible. How can you know if you can trust an information source? This informaiton below provides tips, but always feel free to ask your instructor or a librarian for assistance evaluating a source.
Evaluating sources (from PCC Library)
Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask
How do you know if a source is right for your research? Below are some questions you can ask about your sources. There are no good or bad sources, but sources can be useful or not useful based on the evidence you're looking for.
- Who is the author? What do you know about the author’s background? (hint: Google the author). What makes the author an expert on this particular topic (remember that experience and research are markers of expertise as well as education)?
- What journal, magazine, organization, or website published this information? Look for an "about" page on the publisher's website (or explore their website) and also Google the name of the publication/organization/website (or look for a Wikipedia page about it) to learn more about the publisher of the information. What kind of reputation does it have? What is their purpose in sharing this information? Is it known for promoting specific points of view?
Can you tell where the information in the article came from? Do they share any information from other sources or does it seem like they’re sharing their opinion? If they used other sources, do those sources seem worth trusting?
Based on your answers to these questions, would you trust this source? If not, could anything from this article still be useful? Often articles link to other useful resources or mention other authors and studies that could be helpful.
You may not get good answers from all of these questions, but still trust a source. For example, an opinion piece from a noted expert in a specific field could be a useful source, but chances are, they are not going to be citing sources. Information from the Centers for Disease Control website is trustworthy, but much of it doesn't have an author. You have to weigh each of these factors when making your decision.