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Evaluation of Scientific Information Checklist

Information is made available in many ways, in many forms, and for many reasons. You need to evaluate each source you examine.

  • Accuracy
    • Is the presented information accurate or true?
    • Do the facts match those of other sources? Are there discrepancies?
    • Is the information reliable and error-free?
    • Is the information peer reviewed? Is there an editor(s) or reviewers or someone who verifies/fact-checks the information?
    • Did the reviewers have a bias or conflict of interest?
  • Authority, Responsibility (Experts, Expertise)
    • Who is the author(s)? Who created or wrote the content? Who is responsible for the content?
    • What information can you find about the authors or the authoring organization?
    • What are the author's credentials?
    • What is the author's expertise?
    • Is the author affiliated with an institution or organization with appropriate expertise?
    • Does the author or the institution or organization have a bias or conflict of interest?
  • Scope (Relevancy to your project)
    • What topics are covered?
    • What does this source offer that is not found elsewhere?
    • What is its value?
    • Is the material broad and general? Focused and in depth?
    • Who is the intended audience?
  • Objectivity (Purpose, Bias)
    • What is the purpose of the information? What are the authors trying to do or achieve with the presentation of this information?
    • Is the position clearly stated?
    • Is the information presented with a bias?
    • Is the content designed to sway opinion?
    • Is there any advertising included with the information? Does it relate to the information provided?
    • Is there a potential conflict of interest of the author(s)?
  • Timeliness (Currency)
    • Does the content include the most current knowledge of the subject?
    • Does the content get updated periodically? How often? When was the last update?
    • Is the knowledge current to the present day? Are more recent ideas, theories, or research available?
  • References (Where did the information come from)
    • Are references or indications of the original source provided for verification?
    • Does the source point you to other sources for additional information?
    • How current are the references and further sources?
    • Are they accessible?
    • Are they credible according to the criteria stated above?


Evaluating Citations and Abstracts from the Database Record

A researcher's first encounter with a publication is often as a citation within a database or in the list of references in a publication. Sometimes the researcher doesn't even have that; all they have is a mention of an author and a research project within a popular magazine or newspaper article about a topic relevant to their research.

From what little information is given, researchers need to decide whether the mentioned publication looks promising enough to find out more about the publication OR whether to go ahead and acquire the full text of the publication. The researcher can use the few clues within the citation to make guesses about the likely content of the publication.

Luckily in science, titles of research publications usually attempt to describe the topic of the research. This is not necessarily true of other disciplines. After all, Gone With the Wind is not about the weather. But On the Origin of Species is about a theory concerning the origin of species. Nicolaus Copernicus wrote the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) about how the planets orbit the sun.

Databases may also include abstracts and subject headings with the record of the citation. These provide additional clues for evaluation.

The abstract summarizes the content of the publication. Does the description of the article in the abstract suggest that the publication is likely to include information you want? Remember that a research article includes a literature review of background material. So a research article on your general topic may include a literature review which provides further information on your specific topic.

Subject headings attempt to capture the main content using keywords or short phrases. Subject headings in databases and library catalogs are assigned to the publication based upon what it is ABOUT. So a publication about bears may have a database subject heading of Ursa, even if the publication text uses only the term Bear and never mentions the term Ursa at all. Skim the subject headings for additional clues to the content of the publication. If the abstract does not mention that the article on bears is about reproduction but  the subject headings include Reproduction, then you may assume that the article contains information about bear reproduction.

Critical Evaluation of Scientific Articles

Subject Guide

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Shelley Arvin
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