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Michigan State University

NSC 495-Researching your topic in Human Biology: Critiquing Sources

Crtitiquing Sources

When looking at a source of information and writing a critique, you will want to think about several factors to help you determine whether it is scientifically credible:  

  1. Author:  Who is the author of the information?  This can be a person (what are their credentials?) or an agency (such as the National Institutes of Health).  Do they have knowledge about this area of science?  If they are journalists, did they do their homework?  If they are doctors, are they in the specialty area that they are talking about? 
  2. Date:  When was the information written or last updated? Is this an original source from its time? Is it a later source talking about the past? For information on the latest findings or treatment, is this the most recent?  Any date can be a good source, but you should be aware of when it is written so you know the context.  
  3. References:  Does the piece reference the scientific literature or other reliable sources?  Information presented without citation of the literature is not scholarly.   But then, check the sources they cite. Are they citing some original sources?   Have they left out important articles?  Do they reference a wide range of researchers or only the same researchers over and over? 
  4. Audience:  Who is the audience for this piece of information?  If the audience is the patient or layperson, the information might not go deep into the science.  That's OK, but sometimes information can be simplified so much that it becomes misleading or inaccurate, so check for that. 
  5. Funding:  What is the funding source of the site?  Advertising should be clearly distinguishable from content.  Look for evidence of bias if someone is selling products based on the information presented.

Biology Librarian and Health Sciences Coordinator