When it comes to scientific studies and research, you can start by asking the same basic questions, including:

  • Who funded the research? Are there connections to big industry or advocacy groups? What biases might be at play, based on the study's or researcher's funding history?
  • Who conducted the study? Are the study authors academics or consultants? Or both? Sniff out patterns of corporate support that might call business-friendly findings into question or, conversely, links to activist groups that might support and publicize more "green" findings.
  • Who has published research counter to the new study? This can lead you to additional reputable sources as well as a broader range of questions for your researcher. Does this new study run counter to earlier studies? What is the explanation for the shift?
  • Has anyone on the team changed a behavior based on the research findings? Why or why not? This is a particularly powerful question for researchers studying chemicals that can disrupt the human reproductive system, which are also known as endocrine disruptors. If they are still using products with the chemical that caused harm in their study, what does that say about their work? If they are not, how can you, or should you, include that information in your story?

Taken from Whose Truth? Tools for Smart Science Journalism in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Elissa Yancey at Poynter NewsU.

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