Atlantic Monthly article



The Science Behind Media Reports

Global Change 110, Lab Exercise





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There are several learning objectives for this week's lab.  First, you will learn what constitutes an original, "peer-reviewed" scientific paper compared to an online newspaper or magazine or blog article.  Second, you will practice finding original, peer-reviewed articles, which will be very important for your semester Lab Projects, which should rely on peer-reviewed articles.  Third, you will learn how to make a proper "citation" of an article so that the authors receive credit for the work they have done and anyone can find the same article (e.g., specifying the year, the journal, and the journal volume and page numbers).  Finally, you will further your understanding of what constitutes "fake news" and how you can distinguish fake from factual news.


    This weeks lab assignment consists of 2 parts. 
The first part will serve as an introduction to searching scientific peer-reviewed journals, which you will have to do for your project.
The second part continues our topic on fake news in the media. Do you think you could spot fake news or would you be fooled?

Part 1: Searching peer-reviewed journals

The articles you read and discussed in week 1, "The Challenges We Face" and "Planetary Boundaries", covered several broad environmental issues meant for a wide audience of readers. Now we ask that you look at some original, peer-reviewed literature that forms the scientific basis for the global change or sustainability aspects of your course project. Original, peer-reviewed articles have been examined by other scientists who are qualified to evaluate the subject of the paper. Most journals listed in Google Scholar and the Web of Science (such as Science or Nature) are peer-reviewed. Original, peer-reviewed research articles are articles whose authors directly carried out the research project described themselves. These articles will always include a "Methods" section!  



One way to double-check whether a journal is peer-reviewed and scholarly is to look up the journal’s title in Ulrich’s Web Global Serials Directory (U-M login & password will be required): (  Go to the search bar on the upper right and type in the Journal’s title (e.g. Nature) and choose Title (Exact) on the drop-down menu.  Note:  If you choose Title (Exact) make sure you know the journal title and not just the abbreviated title.  Then click “Search.”  If there are multiple choices, find the one that matches the journal title you have and look at the icons to the left of the title name.  The image of a shirt means the journal is peer-reviewed (or ‘Refereed’ as they say).

To do this, you can use Google Scholar or the Web of Science, where you can type in your topic and search.

When searching for papers, you may have to use keywords other than the exact words in the topic listed, rearrange the words in the topic with search terms like "or" or "and," or just use one key word from the topic (e. g. searching just "vector-borne" instead of "vector-borne disease" will get you more hits matching this topic).


The great thing about using the Web of Science is that most of the papers that come up during a search will be peer reviewed articles. This is not the case for other search engines such as Lexis Nexis.


Once you have found a paper that you want to explore in more detail, click the title to see if there is an abstract.  You can either "View Full Text" if the option is available, or "MGetIt" to see if the article is available online. 


Or, if that doesn't work, open a new window to the library webpage. You can get to many journal articles through the U of M library's online journals page (  Many papers will be available for download as a PDF.


Read the paper you choose from the results of your search, and answer the questions below. You must read the full original research article, not just the summary or abstract.  If you can't tell if the source is the original research, look for a "Methods" section. The original should have one. Submit your answers in Canvas.

ASSIGNMENT (To be handed in on Canvas):

1) Cite the paper as a "journal article" as described in the citation guide: ( Investigate the source and justify that it is a scholarly, peer-reviewed source. For example, you can look up the name of the journal to get information about it. Write your justification in your answer. (2 points)

2) What question or hypothesis did the authors of the paper address? (2 points)

3) How did the authors go about answering this question or testing their hypothesis? (Look at the "Methods" section of the paper) (2 points)

4) What were the findings of the paper? (Look at the "Results" or "Discussion" sections of the paper.) (2 points)

5) How does this paper relate to global change or sustainability aspects of your course project? (1 point)

6) What do you think are the future environmental implications of the findings of this paper? (1 point)

7) Download a PDF of the paper you read and submit that along with this write up.

Direct links (authentication through UM Libraries may be required for access):


Part 2: Identifying fake news


We are awash in fake news, coming at us from all directions and through all media including traditional print and broadcast outlets as well as social media sites. The crux of the issue is, who can we trust? Friends, Congress members, celebrities, talk-show hosts, professors? There have been several careful studies on "trusting the media", and they tend to reach the same conclusion. The conclusion is that there are distinct patterns of "trust" associated with news outlets that are strongly correlated with political leanings (e.g., liberal, conservative).
Fortunately, there are several agreed upon approaches to detect fake news, and several books and even University courses on the topic are now popping up. In lecture, two simple checklists were presented and can be found in the lecture slides (Canvas\Files\Lecture Resources, or in Canvas\Active Learning).

ASSIGNMENT (to be handed in on Canvas)

1) Find a fake news story related to global change or sustainability. Report where you found it and include a functional link. Describe how you found out it was fake. (1.5 points)

2) There are many ways in which a news story can be false. Generally, we can divide fake news in to 3 categories (see below). Which category does your news article apply to? Explain why. (1.5 points)

  • Satire or parody (The Onion, Daily Mash, are both humorous sites)

  • Sloppy reporting that fits an agenda (uses some grains of truth that are not fully verified)

  • Intentionally deceptive:
    i. Misleading news that is sort of true but used the wrong context (for example, "cherry-picking" facts or data)
    ii. Fabricated to either make money or as propaganda, or to fit an agenda
    iii. Misleading news that is not based on facts, but supports an on-going narrative (no baseline for truth, biased, conspiracy theories tend to fall here)


What you have to hand in on Canvas:

1) Follow all instructions in Part 1 and Part 2.

2) Submit one Word document with answers to all questions in Part 1 and Part 2.

3) Submit a pdf of your scientific peer-reviewed article.

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