Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Evaluating newspaper articles

  • Keep Science in Society topical by encouraging students to read science stories in the news and to bring cuttings in, for discussion and for the class noticeboard. See Keeping Science in Society topical.
  • Most people get their information on current science issues from newspapers. Teach them to evaluate this information critically.
  • Many science articles have a strong social context, they include human interest but also attempt to influence policy. They can be used as the stimulus for a range of activities.

Report of new research findings
Sometimes in Science in Society we use newspaper articles just to stimulate interest or to introduce a human story but careful evaluation of the story is often a worthwhile activity.

Give out an article and get students to use the questions below to frame the evaluation. Most articles will not provide answers to all these questions.

Give out a second article on the same story and allow students to make a comparison of the two versions.

Discuss their findings in the whole class.

1. What conclusions are suggested by the headline or introduction?
2. Who did the investigation, what is their reputation?
3. Who paid for the investigation?
4. Where was the investigation carried out?
5. Where did the scientists report their research?
6. From the information given could you write an outline plan of the investigation? Consider issues like sample selection, sample size and use of controls.
7. Is any explanation offered for the effect? Is it just a correlation or does the evidence point to a mechanism?
8. What do other scientists say about the research? Are there other interpretations of the results?
9. Would you be able to make a decision based these articles? How might you get more information?

You may also be able to find the original research report as a comparison. Although this will usually not be suitable for detailed student reading it is valuable for them to see a scientific paper and to compare the original and the news articles derived from it.

Source of current articles on health issues
'Behind the Headlines'
on the NHS site is an excellent source of recent news articles on health issues; it gives a detailed evaluation of both the news articles and the original scientific report, and links to both. The evaluation comes out within a day or two of the original news article and aims to 'assess the reliability of both the journalists' reporting of health stories and the research on which they are based'.

Suggested activities
1.3 Media watch
1.7 Talking risk
1.7 Radioactive pigeons
1.8 Plastic bottles and cancer
1.8 Health in the news