A Canadian newspaper is reporting a case of dark green blood in a surgery patient. I know! How neat is that?!?
Alight, this is a perfect opportunity to give a quick lesson on analyzing the things you read. This is basically an assignment I give in my Human Biology classes–especially if a really interesting story (like one about a guy with green blood!!) comes out in the news. How can you tell if a story you read or hear about is actually credible?
Step 1: Consider the source. I first heard about this story during my morning perusal of Boing Boing , one of my favorite sites for interesting and strange bits of non-news. Now, as much as I love these guys, I don’t consider them a totally credible source. They are, after all, a blog that reads internet sources and passes on the most interesting bits to me. Don’t get me wrong–when I say I don’t consider them credible I don’t mean I don’t read their work with a stalker-like fervor then instantly look up more information on the best parts. Nope, that’s exactly what I do. What I mean about “not credible” is I wouldn’t source boingboing.net in my next publication, or quote their words as fact without doing some extra research.
Source of information is very, very important when determining if a bit of information is credible. What is the author’s credentials? Where is the work published? Most scientists are very proud of their background and work, so they will announce it to the world. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out if the person knows what they are talking about. (Quick hint: most general journalists, yes, even those who work for NPR, have a very basic knowledge of science and biology, and routinely make glaring errors in articles. Make sure you double check the facts!) Make sure the information is published somewhere where the author knows what he is talking about. This can be pretty much assured if the information is published in a journal that is peer reviewed, meaning other scientists with the same basic knowledge as the author have read the author’s work and have agreed with the facts and conclusions.
Most scientific journals are peer reviewed, and are therefore considered credible sources. If you read an article that mentions the information was published in some big peer reviewed journal (like the Lancet), go and read the original article to make sure the site your reading just didn’t make stuff up (which they do, sometimes). Which brings us to:
Step 2: Make sure the information is real. Because many journalists and bloggers are not scientists, they can easily misread information in a credible source, or misunderstand conclusions. If you read a part of an article that just doesn’t make sense to you, look up the facts. You’d be surprised how many basic journalists seem to forget they can just pick up a high school bio book. Now, just because a writer gets some information wrong doesn’t mean the entire article should be discarded. Most of the time the premise is correct; it’s just the details that don’t work. Look up the information and see what’s what. Enjoy the green blood article and tell your friends!