Include your answers in this document in the sections below the rubric.


Describing a study reported in the media

You are to find a newspaper article that reports some scientific finding of interest to you. Then track down the primary source for the article and write a synopsis of the study including information on the kind of study performed, the scientific protocol, general applicability and limitations of the study, and a summary of the findings. In addition, you are to revise the clipped newspaper article to correct any inaccuracies in reporting and add findings or other information which you thought relevant to the story.

Finding an article

Read the newspaper (or website) and clip out an article (or save as pdf) that reports a scientific study or statistical analysis. Scientific and statistical studies on health, public policy, and lifestyle issues appear in all sections of the newspaper and are not just covered by science reporters. The article may be a medical study of a clinical treatment, an observational study, an economic analysis, or social statistics. Do not clip out reports of highly technical studies. Also skip opinion polls, unless they have some unusual methodological feature.

Here’s a good place to start (Science news via google):

Finding the report

Determine the source of the scientific or statistical study for your article, and track down the report or reports on which the article is based. Science-related newspaper articles come from a variety of sources, ranging from in-depth studies by local reporters featuring many references and interviews, to ten-paragraph summaries of just-released scientific studies in publications (which send advance copies of newsworthy findings to major newspapers), to press releases and interviews. Some of the reports cited in newspaper articles are in widely circulating journals and can be found on google scholar (as we did for our literature reviews). In other cases, articles in other news publications may be cited, and you will have to go further to track down the scientific reports. The goal is to find a primary source that has technical details on how the study and data analysis were performed, along with numerical summaries (tables and graphs) of the results.

The analysis

Read the primary details in the source: start with the abstract, then figures and tables and their captions, then skim the methods for details of data collection and analysis, and summarize the scientific findings.

Fundamental elements of the study

These details and those in the next section will be used in a class discussion.

  • (0.25 p) What were the treatments in the study?

  • (0.25 p) Who were the subjects? How many subjects were there?

  • (0.25 p) What pre-treatment characteristics were recorded?

  • (0.25 p) What were the main outcome measurements?

  • (0.25 p) Describe the method of treatment assignment. Why do you think they did not assign treatments randomly?

  • (0.25 p) Was the treatment assignment blind to the subjects? The doctors?

  • (0.25 p) The report gives details on how the sample size was chosen. Describe what they did and what reasoning they used to decide the sample size.

  • (0.25 p) Seeing the results, do you think the sample size turned out to be too small or too large?

The write-up

These details and those in the previous section will be used in a class discussion.

Write a few comments for each of these questions.

  1. (1 p) How accurately does the title reflect the findings of the study?

  2. (2 p) If you could change one sentence in the article, which sentence would you change, how would you change it, and what are your reasons for changing it?

  3. (3 p) If you could add one paragraph to the newspaper article to give more information about the study, what would you say? Explain your reasons for choosing the information you did.

  4. (2 p) If there were any graphs of figures, comment on their usefulness. Do you think additional figures or graphs in the article would be helpful? If so, what kind?

hover alt text Figure As an example, here’s an image and it’s caption.