the difference between a scientific article and a popular article

Discuss the difference between a scientific article and a popular article discussing the effects of LSD in improving depression

Week 2 Science News Assignment

Popular science news article:

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“Magic mushrooms could be used to treat DEPRESSION: Psychedelics perform ‘at least as well’ as the leading antidepressant in new trial” Daily Mail UK

Actual scientific article:

“Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression” by Carhart-Harris, et al., 2021. (posted on blackboard)


Comparing and contrasting are always good skills to have but comparing and contrasting science news and the actual science behind them is an extremely valuable ability to acquire. Most of you have probably seen some form of seemingly scientific news on social media or heard it from a family member. Sometimes, that news is rooted in scientific evidence that is widely accepted by the scientific community. Other times, they come from dubious sources that misinterpret or intentionally mislead their readers. Being able to critically analyze a primary source will allow you to truly understand whether people are correct in passing along scientific information or advice. It will likely also help you to have a more critical eye in general for non-science news. By sharing your ideas with group mates, you will also be learning how to work together to share ideas and critique science news together.

Skills and knowledge

As with the previous reading assignment, reading comprehension is critical here, and you will improve that skill as the weeks go on. For this attempt, you are going to want to focus on how the titles of the popular news article and the real science article differ. Then take a look at the actual content of each source and identify how the content differs from each other. Once you’ve done that, you will need to re-read the title of each article—how well does the content within each piece align with the title?

You might look at the scientific paper assignment questions again from last week to try to remember what types of questions are important to ask yourself when reading a scientific paper.

Now that you have some feedback and direction from Jayden from the first paper, make sure to work on the suggestions she made in the feedback on blackboard. If you want more help, reach out to Jayden or me.



Preparatory steps

1. Read the headline of the popular news piece and the title of the actual scientific article. Note down anything that jumps out at you about the way they differ or are similar.

2. Read the actual scientific paper first. You don’t have to read this super thoroughly. You want to get an idea of what they actually did in this study and why.

2a. Start with the abstract, then skim the intro for the purpose and hypothesis, then take a look at the methods. Finally, read the results and look at any charts or graphs to help you understand what they found.

3. Now, while the paper is fresh in your mind, read the popular news piece. Your big job is to discover how well the news article represents the study and the results. The question prompts below will help you discover this. Write down notes in response to these critical questions.

0. Does the pop news article fully include all the information about the scientific study, or do they exclude some information that could be helpful to understand the study?

0. How faithfully does the pop news article represent the findings? Does the pop news article exaggerate the findings or apply the findings in a way that the scientists do not?

0. If anything is different, are those differences there in order to better communicate this scientific information to a lay audience, or is the information being willfully misinterpreted?

Action steps

1. Now that you’ve written down your responses to the critical questions, it’s time to focus on one way that the news article faithfully represented the scientific article and one way in which it did not. Review your notes and decide what you want to focus on in the discussion board post.

2. On Blackboard by Friday, 10/8 at 11:59 pm, in 3-5 sentences, write a post in your discussion group in which you describe one way that the news article faithfully represented the scientific article and one way in which it did not (one similarity and one difference).

3. The next day, once others has posted, respond to someone else in your group by 11:59 pm on Sunday, 10/10You are welcome to do this as soon as a groupmate has posted! This is meant to be very informal, so you can simply note how others’ thinking helped you notice something new, how others picked up on the same things you did or question an idea that you didn’t quite see. Generate at least two sentences so that you have a chance to really read others’ thoughts.

4. By 3:00 pm on Wednesday, 10/13, you will draft a one-page (or more), double-spaced summary of the similarities and differences and include examples from your classmates. Here is how you should structure that one-page summary:

Introduction: At least three sentences introducing the concept of the paper, explaining what you are doing in this exercise, and taking a stand (eg. This popular news article did not accurately represent the actual science behind it.)

Body: One paragraph about the similarities (at least 5 sentences) and why you think the popular science news author chose to be faithful to those aspects of the science, and one paragraph about the differences (at least 5 sentences) and why you think they might have left some aspects out/misrepresented the actual science.

Conclusion: At least five sentences restating your stance (in new words!), citing examples from what you just wrote to justify your stance, and a final statement about how good or bad this popular science news is for the average reader.

Submission Details:

Submit your one-page, double-spaced word document in the Science News Assignment for this week in Blackboard by Wednesday, 10/13 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s how I will assign points for this assignment:

The rubric is posted on blackboard which will help you get as close to 30 pts as possible. Make sure to look at it before AND after you write to make sure you’re following the guidelines closely.

The blackboard postings will count toward your participation grade, so make sure to be active in your group!

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