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Michigan State University

LB 133 Fall 2020

Four Moves and a Habit

  1. Check for previous fact-checking work.
  2. Go upstream to the source.
  3. Read laterally (read what other people have to say about the source).
  4. Go back to where you started.

Habit: Check your emotions! (Human beings are not objective. If you feel strongly about something, it doesn't mean you're wrong, but it does mean you'll probably evaluate evidence about it differently).

Caulfield, Michael. Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

Extreme Cases: Retractions

Sometimes (very infrequently) a scholarly journal or researcher will retract an article, meaning that the article becomes unpublished. It happens when the article is deeply misleading, the research is discovered to be fake, or it's so badly done that the journal no longer wants to be associated with it. Often the original research is widely publicized, but the retraction is not, so that non-scientists continue to believe the research claims. Retraction Watch Database is a search engine where you can search for retractions. The results will also tell you why the article was retracted. The Retraction Watch organization website also tracks different kinds of scientific misdemeanors.

Some Clues to Look for in Your Popular Source

Find as many of these clues as you can in your popular source. Then you can enter them into an academic database and hopefully find the scholarly article it's based on. If you don't find it in one database, try another! Sometimes you'll need to combine a couple of clues to find the original article (for example, date of publication and journal title, or journal title and topic).

  • Article title
  • Journal title
  • Date of publication
  • Names of author(s)
  • Workplaces or affiliations of author(s) (What university do they work for? What labs do they work for?)
  • Study name--some larger research projects will have names that you can search for. For example, "Man Up Man Down" is the name of an extended project that studies health and stress in African American men in Michigan.
  • Topic--this is not always a good clue, because there may be many articles on the same topic. But it may help in combination with one or more of the other types of information.


Michigan State University