There’s so much information out there, how do you know what to believe? On the Internet, anyone can say anything about any subject. So consulting reputable sources is the best course of action when you’re conducting research for a science project or paper. First, learn to spot the difference between real science and “bad” science before citing Internet sources. Then look to science books, recent science articles from major magazines or websites or a science journal from a government agency for your information.
The scientific method: observation and experimentation
There’s a saying that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth. Propaganda experts exploit this failing in human nature to their advantage. “Sometimes you come across a piece of content that’s so compelling, you’re dying to use it, but you’re not 100% sure because you don’t know the source is credible,” remarked Markham Nolan in his TED Talk “How to Separate Fact and Fiction Online.” “You have to do that investigative work,” he said, as reported in Mashable.com, in “4 TED Talks Every Journalist Should Watch,” by Margaret Looney for International Journalists’ Network.
Science is not politically biased. It is not conservative or liberal. As stated in Merriam-Webster, science is: knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method. The scientific method is a systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Good science, bad science
According to TED Talks, good science:
- can be tested and retested and verified
- is backed by experiments that generate enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy
- is peer-reviewed by experts
- has been published in a reputable peer reviewed journal
- does not contradict the broad, accepted body of scientific knowledge
- is not based on repeated experimentation with similar results
- uses over-simplified interpretations of data
- explains results in imprecise or new-age language
- is generated by overconfident fringe participants who reveal the solution before the experimentation
- contradicts mainstream scientific fact
Bad science to watch out for
Watch out for science “facts” reported by people with an obvious political, religious or corporate bias. Their “scientific findings” tend to be created to further an agenda or increase profit, and their research is often funded by people or organizations expecting a certain result. Here are some examples of bad science that have been in the news lately:
- Organic food is no more healthy or nutritious than conventionally grown food, reported by researchers at Stanford University. The findings are being questioned because “the blogosphere is now filled with suspicions that Stanford downplayed the benefits of organic foods because they had received large donations from conventional agriculture giant Cargill,” reported Lynne Peeples in “Stanford Organics Study: Have Faulty Methods, Political Motivations Threatened Kids’ Health?,” September 13, 2012, in HuffingtonPost.com.
- Distortions of clinical trials for pharmaceutical drugs with company-funded researchers exaggerating the benefits or downplaying the dangers or inefficacies. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients advocates for clinical trial transparency.
- Despite what some political candidates say, women cannot “shut down” the process of conception if they are sexually assaulted. According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, each instance of rape has a 5 percent chance of resulting in pregnancy. That compares to 3.1 percent for consensual sex, reported in the journal Human Nature.
Excellent sources for science projects
Research reputable sources such as science books, recent science articles, encyclopedias, and science presentations at conferences. Other sources include:
- Questia Science and Technology research library and paper writing resource, which has hundreds of sources for science, mathematics, astronomy, computer technology, energy, life sciences, health and medicine, and social science.
- Government agencies, such as the National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, NASA
- Science magazines, such as Popular Science, Scientific American, Sky & Telescope
- Science websites, such as ScienceDaily.com, Science.gov, HowStuffWorks.com, ScienceDirect.com, Discovery.com
- Encyclopedias, textbooks and science books in the library
Consulting reputable sources is the best course of action when you’re conducting research for a science project or paper. Use these helpful hints and you’ll be well on your way!