The purpose of this lab is to get students into the habit of being "social scientifically skeptical" about media accounts, having a sense of what questions to ask and where to turn when empirical claims are made in the media.

In particular:

  • the ability to recognize when an empirical claim is being made
  • having a "nose" for denominator problems - when a claim does not provide "out of how many" information or otherwise misleads by omitting contextual numbers.
  • having a sense of where to go to look for what, how to express what one would need to know in order to assess a claim
  • facility at quick claim checking via tools like
  • a sense of how to track down sources when report says "a study shows" or "studies show" - especially how to go back from journalistic report to summary blog post to popular media account to press release to original executive summary to original publication.
Lab Procedure
  1. Students are presented with several media accounts of a few different events or phenomena (the idea is that we have teams working on the same "story" but not everyone has the same article as their starting point.
  2. Each student does an initial assessment and writes out empirical claims in the article. We specify some format such as identify phenomenon, specify the claim, identify the attribution, does article indicate competitive claims? what are sources? Instructor to work this out with practice rounds
  3. Step one is to identify the apparent source as best one can BASED on the article.
  4. Step two is to do some sleuthing beyond what the article points to.
  5. Step three is to identify the research tradition/project/etc. and how this factoid seems to fit into it.
  6. Step four is to think about the denominator problems. If it's a trend, how much of one? If it's in the population, how widespread? Etc.