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BIOS 332 Behavioral Neuroanatomy Spring 2024

Prof. Jennifer Swann

The CRAAP Test for Scientific Information

Make sure you evaluate the scientific credibility of information sources that you use in working on the open textbook project.

The CRAAP test gives a general framework for evaluating information. Below each of the components of the CRAAP test are some tips specifically related to evaluating information sources in the sciences--including uses info sources that provide research background for writing an open textbook. (make sure to cite your sources!)

 

 

  • To find really current scientific information: if you find an article you like, do a search for later articles that cite that article. (See tutorial for tips.)
  • You probably don't need it for this class, but library databases can often send alerts for new literature, or alerts for new items that cite an article of interest.
  • In some cases it can help to go back in time, too, to understand the original framing of a debate. To do so, you can  see if an article you like cites earlier articles.
  • This raises a question about writing a textbook—does it help to go a bit into the history of a field of science so you can see how scientific ideas developed and liven up a textbook discussion? Or is that a distraction?

 

 

  • When writing material for a textbook, look for information that will help make the textbook relevant for the intended audience.  How much prior scientific knowledge can you assume your readers have?
  • Find source materials that enable you to pitch the writing at the right level. Or that give good models for meeting the needs of your intended audience. 
  • Be honest too about how much you yourself know before you start drafting a textbook chapter.  If you need to come up the learning curve, consider looking at the "background information" sources.  Review articles can also be helpful. See the sections of this guide, as well as the tutorial, for helpful discussions.

 

  • In a journal article, you can usually see the affiliations of the scientists. (Side note: you may see an email address if you want to contact them with questions.)
  • Also, you can search in databases to see what else they have published and whether they have depth in your topic of interest.
  • Recall that we talked about journal papers being cited. Has the author’s work been cited? One trick you can use is to rank the results by how many times cited. Not always but that can be an indication of how much impact a paper has had on a field. On the other hand, maybe people are citing it because it’s wrong and it’s like a shark feeding frenzy.
  • You can also see if they have a website that describes their research, educational background, and list of publications ("cv").

 

 

  • Try to find literature in scientific journal articles that have been peer-reviewed, that is, evaluated by experts. (For help in determining whether an article is peer-reviewed, contact the science librarian.)  Passing peer review does not mean the science is true but at least it got some scrutiny.
  • Keep in mind that in the history of science something may seem accurate at the outset, but then someone comes along and disputes it.  
  • Disagreements can be really interesting and push science forward. You may even want to mention the disagreement in the textbook. 
  • There is a wide array of specific criteria for determining whether scientific claims are reliable. The box below suggests some things to look for.

 

 

  • You want to avoid scientific literature who primary purpose is to sell something, though you may find literature put out by commercial entities that is useful. Look for material that use the language in the c-test is helping to inform or teach. These can serve as models for the language to use in your textbook.
  • By all means look also at literature that seeks to persuade. Much of science is an attempt to persuade you to take a new theory or approach seriously.   Just make sure the authors do two things: provide solid evidence for their claims and at the same time give evidence of the limitations of their work and the existence of counterarguments.
  • Speaking of counterarguments,  disputes between scientists, as long as they provide plausible explanations and data for their views, can be interesting to include in a textbook account of a scientific topic.

Regarding boxes in color above:

Image adapted from the CSU Chico CRAAP Test for the UC Sand Diego Library

Georgia Southern University  |  University Libraries 

  All materials prepared for and directly part of this guide are made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) license.

Credibility of Science

The articles below  make points related to what's been said above and offer much more specific criteria, examples of which are noted. If you get further interested, read the full articles link below.

  • "Who is funding the research and who may profit from it? Biased organizations may give themselves neutral-sounding names."
  • "Hypotheses: Are hypotheses testable and capable of being falsified?"
  • "Are logic and statistical analysis used to help distinguish between coincidence (chance), correlation (association), and causation?" 

"Credible scientists can lay out:
...

  • Here's what we actually observed (and here are the steps we took to control the other variables).
  • Here's what we can say (and with what degree of certainty) about the hypothesis in the light of these results.
  • Here's the next study we'd like to do to be even more sure.

...

  • Here are the results of which we're aware (published and unpublished) that might undermine our findings.
  • Here's how we have taken their criticisms (or implied criticisms) seriously in evaluating our own results."