Comparing Journalistic Reports to Primary Sources of Research
through its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.
A set of three short writing assignments were designed to encourage students to think critically about the way that scientific research is reported by the popular media and the reasons that research may or may not be reported in a way that could be construed as misleading. In the first assignment, students find a news report of a scientific finding and write about the actual and implied claims made in the report. In the second assignment, students track down the primary source(s) of the news report write about the actual and implied claims made in the report, comparing them to those made in the news report. In the third assignment, students consider the challenges that face journalists in reporting and try to write their own news report on the primary source(s).
- Increase awareness of ambiguity in reporting of numbers (e.g., use of vague terms, such as "many" or "more")
- Review experimental design concerns, such as bias, validity, sample size, effect size, and basic statistics, and their importance in the ability of a person to draw conclusions about research results.
- Develop an understanding for how prior knowledge and belief can bias the understanding of research findings, the writing of research results, and the interpretation of even neutral language.
- Practice finding primary sources.
- Practice writing clearly and concisely.
Context for Use
The three assignments in this activity will be interleaved with class periods covering searching for primary sources, experimental design, basic statistics, and the cognitive and social processes involved in understanding arguments and interpreting quantitative data.
Description and Teaching Materials
- Reference librarian materials on searching for primary sources both in academic databases and on the Internet.
- Three assignment handouts.
- Grading rubric. Part I: Analyzing Popular New Reports (Acrobat (PDF) 70kB Oct22 08) Part II: Comparing Popular News to Primary Sources (Acrobat (PDF) 71kB Oct22 08) Part III: The Challenge of Writing Popular News (Acrobat (PDF) 69kB Oct22 08)