Information is powerful. Information can be used to pass ideas, create tools, create problems, create solutions, and to enrich our own view of nature. We are fortunate to have access to more information than any other generation in history. A large portion of the information we share with our community has also passed through media (the internet, social media, newpapers, etc). How do we process this information? How can we critically evaluate information for ourselves? How can we establish what is accurate when we don’t agree upon a standard source? The scientific community has addressed these problems by establishing a framework for publishing primary literature. Primary literature can also be thought of as source information. The information provided by primary literature may be used to generate ideas for future research, or it may be used to produce articles in the popular press. In this assignment, we will learn the ways in which we can establish whether a piece of information is primary literature or popular press.
In the above flow-chart (fig 1) you can see that research and experimental results are first published in primary literature (such as peer reviewed journals). After this step, information may be reported by other media sources in the popular press. Popular press articles may report all or part of the findings, and may impart bias in their interpretation of the research. Below is a summary of some other key differences between the two kinds of literature.
primary literature articles
Clear funding disclosure
Peer reviewed, often anonymously
Reviewer(s) check for accuracy (stats, etc)
Has an impact factor rating and DOI
Provides and describes supporting raw data
States research without colorful language or opinion
Purpose is to report research exactly to those who may wish to reproduce the results or continue related research
popular press articles
Often undisclosed sources of funding
Often reviewed by in-house editors
Inconsistent methods of checking accuracy
Summarizes scientific results
May include narratives, opinions, or bias
Broad range of accuracy between publications
Publication has no “impact factor” rating
Purpose is to summarize and describe research to a broader audience
For your assignment, you will use the internet to 1) find a science-related popular press article and then 2) find the primary literature for the article. You will then 3) answer the questions below regarding the two articles. Use whatever resources available (google, wikipedia, etc) to answer the questions. An easy way to find your pop-press article is to
Find an article you like that includes a link to the primary literature
After you find a popular press article, its time to find the primary literature source. This is often included as a link at the end of the article or embedded within the articles text. If the primary literature is cited without a link, you can search for the article by name using scholar.google.com or any other literature database. If your article does not have a clear primary literature source, please start over and choose another article. Below is a video example of the whole process.
Popular media article questions1) What “publication” produced the article (e.g. buzzfeed, ars technica, BBC, etc…)?
2) What is the title of your article? 3) Why did you choose this article? 4) Does the article have a clear narrative, bias, or opinion? Give an example (hint: adjectives like “exciting”, “new”, “unfortunate”, or other colorful language may indicate a bias). 5) Does the article disclose funding or possible conflicts of interest?
Primary literature article questions 1) What journal published the manuscript? 2) What is an “impact factor”? (google it) 3) What is the impact factor of the journal that published the article? (google it) 4) What is the title of the manuscript? 5) Who are the authors of the manuscript (if there are many, list the first 3)? 6) How is a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) used? (google it) 7) What is your articles DOI? (write all the numbers/letters) 8) Are you able to download a copy of the manuscript or is there a “pay-wall”? 9) Do you think this kind of literature should cost money? Why or why not?