California State University Los Angeles Vaccines Cause Autism Discussion


This assignment synthesizes course content and skills from Units 1 and 2, and helps you to practice and demonstrate the basic skills of “baloney detection” and scientific literacy, no matter your level of scientific training.  This project adds research onto the skills you developed in Class Project 1, and asks you to expand your evaluation of a popular news source by contextualizing it with scientific expertise. 

For this assignment, you can choose to work alone, to work with a partner, or to work with your study group to write an 850-1000 word essay.   Following from your work on Class Project 1, you will follow a scientific factual claim into the scientific literature about that topic, and then communicate your findings in your essay according to the instructions below.

Along with your essay, you will submit a Cover Letter explaining some elements of your work.  If you are collaborating in a pair or group, you will also submit a Teamwork Sheet that describes and evaluates the collaboration.

Learning Goals

  1. Demonstrate your ability to meet all of Part 1 of the Course Learning Objectives as listed on the syllabus
  2. Demonstrate your ability to meet Part 2.1 and Part 2.3 of the Course Learning Objectives as listed on the syllabus
  3. Work either on your own or in a successful collaborative relationship in which your work contributes to a deeper sense of learning and proficiency in research, writing, and science literacy skills.


Writing the Essay

  1. News Source: Find a news source that reports on a scientific factual claim that appeals to objectivity.  This can be print news, online news, radio news, or television news. 
    • You can use the same source you used in Class Project 1 for inspiration as you search for a news source, or choose a different topic.  
      • For example: if your popular source for Class Project 1 was about sleep, you would look for news sources about scientific developments about sleep.  
    • If you are collaborating, you can evaluate which of your Class Project 1 ideas might work best for this assignment, or you can choose an entirely new one.
  2. Essay: Once you’ve decided on your news source, you need to introduce and analyze it in your essay, and contextualize your popular source with research into the scientific literature that is relevant to the factual claim you are investigating.  
    • Paragraph 1: Your introduction paragraph needs to clearly describe your news source and what factual claim it is making.  What is the publication, and who is the author?  What medium is this news source (print, digital, video, text, audio)?  What is the factual claim, and how is it appealing to objectivity? How does the source use words, images, sound, or formatting to try to convince you of the fact it is reporting on?  Refer back to feedback you received on Class Project 1, and make any improvements suggested there.  
    • Paragraph 2: Your second paragraph needs to explain how the source appeals to expertise and authority.  Does it present the perspective of an expert?  How does it define an “expert”?  When you look up the author or experts they cite, who what do you find? 
    • Paragraphs 3 and 4: You need to conduct research in scientific databases to find two peer-reviewed studies that will help you evaluate how the news source reports on the scientific claim.  We will learn how to do this in class on Wednesday, 10/6, when the NATS Librarian visits class. You will also have access to the Cultures of Science Research Guide (Links to an external site.) on the Library website (here’s the url: (Links to an external site.)), which makes the databases easy to find.  
      • Focus on one peer-reviewed study per paragraph.  In each paragraph, fully introduce the scientific study, and make sure to identify whether it is recent or old.  Does the source verify, refute, or complicate how the news source reports the claim?  Draw specific evidence from the studies to support your evaluation in each paragraph.  
    • Paragraph 5: compare the news source’s reporting to what you found in the scientific literature.  How much difference was there between the scientific study and the news source? Was anything important left out of the news source, compared to scientific studies?  Do you see any “baloney” in the way the news source promotes its claim? What do you think the importance of the differences are between how the fact is presented in the technical literature versus the popular representation?
    • Paragraph 6: Your conclusion should explore what is a stake, and for whom, in whether or not this factual claim is treated as true by people who only consume the news source instead of the scientific studies.  What does it matter if people who consume the news source believe this fact?  Are there potential negative consequences for believing this claim, and do those consequences differ depending on who you are?  Does it matter if doctors believe this fact, or parents, or business investors, or regular consumers, or any other stakeholder you can think of? 
    • Citations:  Make sure you clearly quote and cite your news source and any scientific studies you reference in the body of your essay.  You can use any citation system you choose (MLA, APA, etc), as long as you are consistent.  You need to provide a Works Cited list, and you should plan to include no fewer than 3 sources (your news source and 2 scientific studies).
  3. Cover Letter: Once you (and your partner or group, if applicable) have completed your essay, you need to complete your Cover Letter.  In a short paragraph or two, answer the following questions.  Each of you should contribute and each should clearly mark their own contributions.
    • What did you learn in Units 1 and 2 that helped you to complete this assignment?
    • Do you think you had enough knowledge to confidently complete this assignment, or did you feel like you were out of your depth?
    • If you had had more time for this assignment, what you would have done with it? (Make sure to stick to what the assignment asks of you). 
    • Is there anything else you would like me to know?

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