Resources for the Controversy research


Topics
These are some possible topics. Note that topics such as amalgam fillings, 1080 and fluoridation have interest groups with very strong opinions advocating or opposing them, and these groups often publish material which looks scientific but is based on some very dodgy data. Topics like Dark Matter or Death of the Dinosaurs may be less interesting, but carry less of a risk of getting mired in non-scientific aspects of the controversy, as they are controversial among different science groups rather than interest groups.
I've tried to highlight some problems with these issues where they exist.
Handout for students



Amalgam fillings (beware of pseudoscience
• Dark matter/Modified Newtonian Dynamics (Missing mass) (introduction to topic- Wikipedia)
• Climate change (is it happening, is it anthropogenic, is it practical to try to do anything about it - need to define topic a bit. BE CAREFUL about validity, but hopefully bias is reasonably obvious. Brownie points for finding links to Exxon-Mobil in your climate change denier sources!)
• Wind farms (on the NZQA list, not too sure what the controversy is)
• Control of pests with 1080 - what it is (Wikipedia), anti 1080 website note that the science on the anti 1080 websites is often anectdotal and the people who write the sites often fail to consider the difference between anectodal evidence and systematically collected data
• Cloning (need to define a controversial issue with regards to this)
• Cell phone radiation (last time a student tried this he couldn't find decent quality information on both sides)
• Immunisation
• Volcanic hot spots (link hereto some of the debate on this)
• Genetic engineering of food (define some issues e.g. does it actually benefit, potential for harm)
• Use of stem cells for curing diseases or mending injuries (define an issue e.g. safety or ethical)
• Fluoridation of water supplies (be careful about info quality, this topic really sets some people off)
• Food additives (need to narrow down)
• Death of the dinosaurs (boring)
• Use of pesticides/ herbicides (need to narrow down)
• Medicinal use of marijuana (not a safe topic if you just think dope should be legalised and this is an excuse; quality info patchy)
• Gene therapy
• Animal testing (careful to stick to science, can look at ethics but beware fluffy bunny pix)
• Mining (define an issue first)
• Spraying for tussock moth eradication (beware of pseudo science on this one)

Bias and validity

Validity:This means how reliable is the information.
The most reliable information is that which has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. These are specialist journals, where each article has been read and criticized by experts in the field before publication.
  • An edited summary of these articles can be considered equally valid e.g. in NewScientist, Scientific American and so on.
  • Web articles may need to be checked against the original article when they summarize peer-reviewed articles.
  • Books which have been written to explain particular ideas are usually quite reliable IF THEY HAVE BEEN INDEPENDENTLY EDITED. However, many fail to meet this standard. For example, the global-warming denial book "Air-Con" written by Ian Wishart (editor of Investigate magazine) is a good example. Wishart is an anti-evolution campaigner, which really says enough about his scientific credentials. It is published by an 'independent' publisher - his own organisation, basically. Be careful.
  • Articles in ‘reputable’ magazines e.g. National Geographic are usually reliable.
  • Encyclopedia articles are usually reliable (this means edited encyclopedias like World Book or Britannca)
  • Newspaper and popular magazines often use syndicated science articles which come from magazines like NewScientist. NS employs journalists who are specialist science writers, and articles written by such journalists are more reliable than those written by non-specialists. Few NZ newspapers employ science writers and fewer still of those have any actual science qualifications. You will need to background check on who has written the article.
  • Wikipedia has a reputation for unreliability. All Wiki information must therefore be checked. Having said this, much Wiki information is very good and it is often the quickest way for you to get an introduction and overview of your topic. You may use wiki for research and record it in your logbook (with due comment on reliablility and bias), but you should not use it as a citable 'reliable' source for your information in your report unless you have checked the article against its own cited sources and evaluated them.

Bias

Peer reviewed articles often claim to be neutral but aren't always.
Wikipedia articles have 'Neutral Point Of View' (NPOV) as a policy. This is often hotly debated, and you can see this on the discussion and history pages. So, although Wiki is not a particularly reliable source of information, it is a good one for having a look at points of view and seeing what different people think is neutral.
Website information is highly variable. Do not assume NPOV, even for university sourced websites (.edu). Many universities allow faculty and students to put up information which is their own rather than representing the university academia.
I came across this article which claims that certain points of view (POV) are censored on Wikipedia. It releates to a person who has edited the Wikipedia entry on Chris de Freitas, the Auckland University Climate Change denier.

Logbook - spare logbook here (PDF). This is in A4 size - if your printer is capable of booklet printing, it is designed for printing as A5 booklet (5 backed sheets = 20 page booklet).