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Medical Laboratory Sciences

How do You Start Evaluating Sources?

Icons of a notebook with pencil, person, building, and arrow. Meant to represent an author, audience, publisher/publication, and purpose.

You need to think about the:

  • Author: Are they a scholar? A medical professional? A journalist? What are their credentials?
  • Audience: Who was this written for? Medical professionals? Scholars? Popular consumption?
  • Publisher/Publication: What is the credibility of the institution or organization responsible for this information?
  • Purpose: Why was this written? To report insight in a particular field? To relay findings of a study? To relay news?

Evaluating the Science

Scientific research takes time and, in many cases, is measuring very specific variables. Exploratory studies usually need confirmation from further research. In addition, the media may misrepresent "conclusions." With this in mind, drawing concrete conclusions from only one study and citing news sources in your work can be problematic (though news sources are not always invalid).

To help you better understand and cite the science:

  • Find the original study or source
  • Scrutinize who conducted the study and if it is biased
  • Look at the sample size of a study
  • Distinguish what type of study was conducted

For more information check out these titles:

For more information on conducting studies with human subjects watch this video:

Some Common Types of Scientific / Health Sciences Articles

Clinical Trial: From the National Institutes of Health, "Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Treatments might be new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Clinical trials can also look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses."

Meta-Analysis: A quantitative analysis that reviews data from previous research done on a particular topic to better draw conclusions about that research and topic. See Meta-analysis in Medical Research for more information.

Randomized Controlled Trial: A clinical trial or study where participants are randomly assigned to different groups. See Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) from the National Library of Medicine for more information.

Systematic Review: A literature review that not only compiles, but also analyzes all the pertinent literature on a specific topic. The review attempts to answer a research question and it can be a very valuable source of resources for your work. See Cochrane's What is a Systematic Review for more information.

Evaluating Studies

Studies need to be funded. Think about asking yourself these questions to evaluate the information presented and to check for any biases

Accuracy/Bias  Does the information presented appear truthful / impartial or incorrect / biased?

Funding

Who funded this study? Was it government funded, private donations, a private company? Hint: Government-funded, private donations?
Leadership Who was in charge of the study / who runs the entity that funded it? What Information can you find on them? Hint: Can you find more through a web search?
Mission What is the stated purpose of the study and mission of the entity  that funded it?
Reputation What is the reputation of the authors and the funders? Are they well-known, well-regarded? Have you heard of them before? What information can you find on them?

Image of a check markQuick Tip: Many times clicking on an author, publication, or organization name in a database (like PubMed) record will take you to more information on the entity. However, you can also find information by running a web search.

Evaluating Websites of Organizations

Use these tips to evaluate the websites of organizations. Keep in mind that these are only a starting point and not guaranteed to be failsafe in every situation. 

Accuracy/Bias

Does the information presented on the website appear truthful / impartial, or incorrect / biased?
Funding How is the organization funded? Hint: Government-funded, private donations?
Leadership Who runs / founded the organization? What can you find out about them? Hint: Can you find more through a web search?
Mission

What is the stated or implied mission of the organization? Hint: Look at the "About" page.

Reputation Is this a well-known, well-regarded organization? Have you heard of it before?
Web Address Does the URL end in: .edu, .gov, .org? Note: This is not always full proof. URLs of all types can be bought.

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