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Evaluating Scientific Information (if you're not an expert): Home

tips for critically evaluating scientific research articles and news reports about research

Fact Check the Science

With all the accusations of "junk science" and "fake news" today, it's important to fact check scientific claims. Here are some good places to start:

Duke University's Reporter's Lab keeps track of fact-checking websites worldwide:

And these fact-checking sites often cover junk science claims and pseudoscience:

At present the most hotly-contended areas of science are around climate change and health (especially COVID-19, where the UN declared that the "epidemic of disinformation" is as deadly as the disease). These sites can help sort out what's true, false, and unknown yet.

Where do we find scientific information online?

What are some of the types of sources we find when we search the Internet?

Internet-only Sources:

  • Web sites: Most of the information on the Internet is distributed via Web sites. Web sites vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources.
  • Weblogs / Blogs: Blogs are a type of interactive journal where writers post and readers respond. They vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources. For example, many prestigious journalists and public figures may have blogs, which may be more credible than most other blogs.
  • Message boards, Discussion lists, and Chat rooms: Discussion lists, chat rooms, and message boards exist for all kinds of disciplines both in and outside of the university. However, plenty of the boards that exist are rather unhelpful and poorly researched.
  • Multimedia: The Internet has a multimedia resources including online broadcasts and news, images, audio files, and interactive Web sites.

 

Traditional Sources:

  • Articles from online magazines, journals, newspapers, newsletters and more. 
  • Books in online formats (pdf, e-book, etc.)

Not All Sources Are Reliable!

Over time,  peer review practices evolved to verify scientific claims made in traditional sources (some books, some journal articles). But almost none of the internet-only sources do this reliably!

So -- if your information comes from an online source, don't trust it until you've checked it. This guide has information about peer review, and more detail on evaluating scientific information both online and in print. For a quick check, though, the "Trust It or Trash It?" Quality Assessment Toolbox (link below) is a great start.