Media Critiques

  • Due in tutorial during the week of Sept 24
  • Worth 5% of the final grade
  • MAX length 500 words or 1 page single spaced
  • Your name & day/time of your tutorial must appear at the top

Read the assigned paper and the media coverage you can dig up covering that particular study, with the following question in mind: On the whole, is the media misleading the public about the science in this particular study? Or is the media coverage exactly what we would expect, given the research and the way the authors have presented it in this paper?

Using at least 3 media articles, address this question in a 500 word critique. Start with a brief summary of your view. Explain what evidence you have to bolster your argument (from the media, and from the paper itself). Formal citations and reference lists are not required; you can simply refer to the articles (and the study) by the author’s name or the media source title in the body of your critique. However, you must attach printouts of your media articles to your assignment.

Your critique will be evaluated primarily on the clarity, strength and coherence of your argument. The diversity and visibility of the media examples you use will also be important here (i.e., your argument that media coverage overall will not be very convincing if all of your examples are from obscure sources), as will the accuracy and strength of any examples you use from the paper itself. Writing style and clarity will also be considered. See this PDF file for the evaluation scheme.

Mini-Review + News Report

During the week when you are acting as the expert reporter for Scientific Kingstonian, you have three jobs: turn in a 500 word mini-review at the board meeting (in your tutorial); then, during the meeting, convince us that the paper you chose is worth covering in the magazine; and lastly, after the board meeting, write a brief news report that explains the study for a general audience in a clear and engaging way (due in your tutorial exactly 1 week later).

The papers for this are posted here.

  • Mini-review is worth 5% of your final grade, due in your tutorial (exact date will depend on which week you sign up to be the expert)
  • News report is also worth 5%, due in tutorial exactly one week later
  • MAX length 500 words or 1 page single spaced for each
  • Your name & day/time of your tutorial must appear at the top

The Mini-Review will consist of three sections.

Section 1: Introduce the topic by addressing the main research question that the study was attempting to answer and explaining why that question is important to science.

Example: Lets face it: we’re not all immortals, so reanimation of flesh in humans has been a long-standing problem of interest. Numerous attempts have been made to revitalize corpses over the years especially when the deceased met an untimely end. Most researchers have focused on sacrifices, incantations, spells, and rituals, however progress has been slow and many results equivocal … [more discussion of the problem] …In a radical break from tradition, published in The Leech: the Transylvanian Journal of Medicine, Dr. Frankenstein proposes that extremely high electrical voltages delivered in storms, hunchback assistants and creepy castles (with bats) may be essential to achieving the goal of reanimation. In an experiment he provides striking evidence that his theory has merit. Here I describe the experiments and their interpretation, as well as several alternatives not considered by the author…

Section 2: The second section will summarize how the experiment was performed or data collected and what novel/different approaches were used. Make sure you use lay terms and do not just paraphrase the paper. Try to explain what the authors did in plain English.

Example: The authors tested their predictions in a Transylvanian castle during a thunderstorm, with a man assembled from parts found in graveyards. Attempts to reanimate ‘Frankie’ were initially unsuccessful. The authors found that placing large bolt-like electrodes on his head improved conductivity, and twitching and groaning sounds suggested that to reactivate the whole they needed to first zap the brain and central nervous system. However, only with a double lightning strike, ghoulish laughter, and a scantily clad captive woman in the lab did Frankie come to life…. [more on the specifics of the experiment].

Section 3: The last section will address what the main result was, why it is important to the overall research question, and why the public should be aware of this new discovery. Was the study successful? Good quality? Think about the approach. Did the authors fairly describe the import of their work? Was it generalizable? Think about how the work was conducted and how convincing the results were. Keep in mind that your job is to make a compelling argument that the paper should be covered in the popular press, while being honest about its flaws. What are its most important merits?

Example: Dr. Frankenstein concludes that multiple interacting factors and an abundance of creepy stuff are required for the reanimation of a corpse. The behavioural difficulties that Frankie experienced were tentatively explained by experimental error, in which the lab assistant installed the wrong brain. Although the wrong brain hypothesis was not verified, these results clearly demonstrate the potential for reanimation as a means of life-extension. They also raise important questions for the field of reanimation science. Will these methods work in other settings and with other bodies? Which of the ‘additional interacting factors’ mentioned by the authors are essential to reanimation? While the current results are preliminary, they will no doubt inspire others to do the necessary subtractive experiments, removing each of the elements to figure out which creepy or voluptuous things are required (such as whether the assistant must have a hunchback, or whether the castle must have bats). Despite these shortcomings, this is a provocative and high-quality study on an important topic. Unfortunately these findings were published a bit too late for the Jackson family to work with.

Armed with the discussion that took place during the board meeting, your next job is to write a 500-600 word News Report. This will be due in your next tutorial session (i.e., exactly one week after your Mini Review was due).

The goal of this report is to explain the science in an engaging – but accurate – way. You can use your Mini-Review as a starting point, but the News Report should have a very different structure: you’ll want to start with the most interesting aspect of your story to grab the audience’s attention, and then explain the study and why it’s so important. See this New Scientist piece for an example, or this one from Science News.

Your target audience is a reader with some science background (e.g., a scientist in a different field, like a nuclear physicist, someone with a first year biology background, or an amateur science enthusiast). The challenge is to explain what the researchers did, and why, to an audience that may not have knowledge of previous research in the field.

Your report will be evaluated on clarity, as well as your ability to spark the reader’s interest while still presenting a fair view of the study.

**Note that writing style and correctness are important for all assignments in this course. See this PDF file for the evaluation scheme used in this course.

Magazine Article

  • Due in class on November 23
  • Weighted at 20% of the final grade
  • Detailed instructions here
  • Your name & day/time of your tutorial must appear on the first page

Here is the list of 10 papers that you may choose from for your article. You will need to be connected via a campus internet connection (or the Queen’s proxy server) to download the papers.

  1. Running with the Red Queen: host parasite coevolution selects for biparental sex by Moran et al.
  2. Molecular evidence for ancient asexuality in Timema stick insects by Schwander et al.
  3. Convenience polyandry or convenience polygyny? Costly sex under female control in a promiscuous primate by Huchard et al.
  4. Male-female coevolution in the wild: evidence from a time series in Artemia franciscana by Rode et al.
  5. When mothers make sons sexy: maternal effects contribute to increased sexual attractiveness of extra pair offspring by Tschirren et al.
  6. Diversification of a food-mimicking male ornament via sensory drive by Kolm et al.
  7. Illusions promote mating success in great bowerbirds by Kelley and Endler
  8. Mate choice for major histocompatibility complex genetic divergence as a bet-hedging strategy in the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) by Evans et al.
  9. A mechanism of extreme growth and reliable signaling in sexually selected ornaments and weapons by Emlen et al.
  10. Cross-generational effects of climate change on expression of a sexually selected trait by Scordato et al.

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21 Responses to Assignments

  1. Can we use video coverage if we put in the link?

  2. Hmm… I think we’ll limit it to print/text coverage for consistency.

  3. for the media critique, do we need to think of a creative title for the assignment or can we just title it as, “Media Critique of “Intolerance of Sexy Peers: Intrasexual Competition Among Women”

    in addition, do you want us to put the word count at the bottom of the page?

  4. Both of those things would be great, but neither is required.

  5. Charlotte Clutson

    If there are a lot of authors can we just say, for example, “Roberts et al tested this theory by…”

  6. That’s great for the mini-review, but don’t use “et al.” in your news report or your magazine article. Instead, say something like, “Roberts and his coauthors…” or “The authors…” or “The researchers…” etc.

  7. Can we add quotations to our news report from experts within the field, but unrelated to the journal authors? If so, how should we cite this?

  8. Sure. All quotations should have the speaker/author given within the text.
    For example:
    According to Adam Chippindale, an expert on sexual conflict who was not involved with the guppy study, “Blah blah blah…”
    “This is a radically new way to look at what these birds are doing,” says Roz Dakin, who studies courtship in other bird species.

  9. For the mini review, I’m assuming that intro and explanation of the experiment should be shorter than the 3rd paragraph (main results, why it is important for the public to know, etc.). Is this correct?

  10. Yes, that sounds about right.

  11. are there any examples of magazine articles you can provide that will help us get a better understanding of the assignment?

  12. Hmm… here are a couple of excellent feature-length articles on other biological topics:
    These are good examples of the writing style and audience you should aim for. You’ll notice that all of these examples explain the results of multiple studies… we want you to do that too, and incorporate your background research. Unlike these examples, however, you should focus in greater detail on your chosen paper over the others.

  13. You say no formal scientific referencing, does this mean you dont want us to do formal in test citations?

  14. Yes, that is correct. We don’t want you to use formal scientific style (Author, Year) for citing references in the body text. Instead, you can refer to particular studies by describing the author(s) by name and saying what was done. For example:
    “One possibility – which John Endler and his coauthors suggested in their 2010 study – is that only the males with advanced cognitive abilities arrange their bowers in this way. There is some evidence that females prefer brainier mates in other bowerbird species. For instance, in a 2011 study of the satin bowerbird, a related species, Jason Keagy showed that…”

  15. Do you want the assigned article to be included in the Further Readings section?

  16. Charlotte Clutson

    How do you cite an interview? I found an article that referred to an interview with the authors of my paper.


  17. Just describe where it came from in the body text (e.g., “In an interview with a reporter from New Scientist magazine, Dr. Blaul said that…”), and then list the article where the interview was published in your “Further Readings” list. For instance, interview was in another popular-style publication, you can follow a format similar to the one you are using for your primary references:
    Smith J. 2011. Article title. New Scientist. Volume, pages.
    If it was published online but not in print, you might use a format like this:
    Smith J. 2011. Article title. New Scientist. URL.

  18. Under “further readings” are we citing with proper scientific format? If so, which format are we using?

  19. You can use the format from Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the journal where your tutorial readings came from.

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