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Cell Biology in the News

Cell Biology in the News Assignment


Cell biology is a very exciting, quick-moving field, with new research being published regularly. In healthcare it is really important that you stay up to date on the current information in your field, and know how to find reliable information. The purpose of this assignment is to expose you to the different types of scientific sources and be able to find, read, understand, and critically examine them. Although you may not be specifically working as a cell biologist, I can guarantee that these skills will be helpful in whatever you choose to do.

To complete this assignment, it is first important to understand how scientific research is communicated. There are three general types of sources that communicate science:


  1. Primary research articles.

When scientists have completed an experiment, they summarize the details and results of their experiment in a formal paper and submit it to a journal specific to their field. In order for papers to be published in the journal, it must first pass a rigorous peer review process, in which experts and colleagues in the field critically examine the research. If the research is deemed high-quality and after appropriate revisions have been made, the paper will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Some examples of reputable peer-reviewed journals include Cell, Nature, Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Molecular Biology, etc.These articles are dense and can be difficult to read, but they are the most reliable source because they are written by the actual scientists who performed the experiment.


  1. Secondary (review articles).

Once a large number of primary research articles has been published for a particular topic, it is very helpful if a scientist pulls together all of the individual primary articles and summarizes them in one article. In the article the scientist may compare and contrast findings, summarize the main results, give suggestions for future research, etc. These articles are also published in peer-reviewed journals, so they are often mistaken for primary articles. They can be distinguished from primary articles though because they do not contain a “materials and methods” section that outlines the minute details of the experiments. Secondary articles are very helpful for getting reliable summaries of a particular subject, and they are typically easier to understand than primary articles.

  1. News articles.

New research, especially research that is ground-breaking or applicable to the public, is often published in a variety of different news sources. News articles are written to the general public, and so they are the easiest to understand. As you are aware though, there are many, many different kinds of news sources, and unfortunately they are not all reliable. When reading a news article about scientific research, it is critical that the article cites the actual primary research article. If it does not cite the article, then it should be disregarded immediately. Even if the information actually is correct, without having a way to confirm it, it is not trustworthy. Once you determine that the news article is reputable because it cites the primary article, then you can read it, but you still must examine it critically. News articles are a great place to start when studying a particular subject, because they are so easy and enjoyable to read. However,they often exaggerate research findings, sensationalize them, or completely take them out of context. In order to make informed decisions and opinions about the subject, you must continue to the actual primary research article



Overview of Assignment:

  1. News Article


Find a current (2012- 2017) news article that pertains to something we are learning about in this class (check with me if you aren’t sure about something you’ve chosen). The news article must come from a reputable news source.  Reputable news sources quote researchers and research projects and give you the information you need to find the primary source.  Examples of news sources that are usually reputable include: National Public Radio (NPR), New York Times, National Geographic, Center for Disease Control updates (CDC), World Health Organization updates (WHO), Science Daily. If you are unsure if your news source is reputable, please run it by me first.

  1. Read through the news article. Be able to summarize the main points.
  2. After reading it, ask yourself if any of the material seems like it could be exaggerated? What additional questions do you have about the topic after reading the article? What questions would you have for the researchers if you could meet them?


  1. Primary research article.

Once you have read the news article you will need to try to confirm what the article is saying by tracking down the original research source. To do this, find information in the news article about the authors of the study, or the journal in which it was published. Then use an online biology journal database (such as Pubmed, EBSCO, Science Direct, Google Scholar) to find the scientific journal article.

*****If you are unsure how to look up a primary article, the PCC library is a wonderful resource. You can go to the library in-person and get help looking up the article, or you can use their free online chat service to get help from a librarian online (


  1. First read through the abstract- this is the summary part of the primary article. Does the abstract match well with what you read about in the news article? Does it contain information that is not in the news article? Does it appear that any of the news article information has been exaggerated?
  2. Second, read through the primary article. Some of the language may be difficult, but do the best you can. Look up unfamiliar words online, and read through it multiple times. Look for some of the following things as you read:
    1. What was the sample size of the experiments? Do you think it was large enough?
    2. How many times was each experiment repeated? Do you think it was enough?
  • Read the results section. Do the researchers findings match what the news article communicated?


  1. Critical Examination.


  1. After reading through the news article and primary article, compare and contrast them. What are strengths and weaknesses in each? What are ways they could both improve? Were there any weaknesses you could identify in the actual research study?
  2. Lastly, what follow up questions do you have about the topic after reading the news article and primary research article? What further research do you think needs to be done?
  1. Short Paper. Use the instructions below to write a short paper about your article.
  2. Share a brief summary of the article and your findings in class on the last day (we will do this in small groups).

Short Paper Instructions:

The write-up needs to be typed and include the following:

  1. Citations for news article and primary article
    1. News article: Author, Article Title. News Source. Date Published. URL link.
    2. Primary article: Authors, article title. Journal Name. Year Published. Journal Page Numbers. URL link to abstract.
  2. Summary of the news article: Use your own words to write a brief summary (paragraph) of what the news article says (do not plagiarize!! No exact or close phrases from the article. You will get a zero on this assignment if I find that you have plagiarized.)
  3. Critical examination of the news article and primary article. Include answers to the following questions:
    1. Is anything in the news article exaggerated?
    2. Are there weakness to the news article?
    3. Are there weaknesses in the study described in the primary article?
    4. What additional experiments need to be done to have confidence in the topic?
  4. Connection to our class: How does this news article information tie in to what we have learned in Bi 112 this term?
  5. Personal Interest/ Questions and Comments: What do you find interesting about the article? What are some potential applications of the article’s findings? What further questions do you have after reading the article?

Presentation Instructions

Do not panic, this is not meant to be an intense, high stress presentation! You will simply be sharing with the class what you wrote in your write-up in small groups of 4-5.  It should only take about 5 minutes total. I highly recommend that you bring a picture or visual aid that relates to your article.

Point Breakdown:

Selecting recent, reputable news article                                                5 points

Finding correct primary article                                                    5 points

Short Paper

Correct Citations                                                              5 points

Summary                                                                             5 points

Critical examination of both articles                         10 points

Connection to class material                                       5 points

Personal Interest/Questions and Comments      5 points

Presentation                                                                                      5 points


Total points                                                                                        45 points

Last Updated on February 11, 2019

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