Philosophy of Science

"Journal Club"
Spring 2014



Phase I: Finding a group

Phase II: Locating sources

Research tips

Phase III: Reading, evaluating, and analyzing sources

Suggestions to guide discussion of articles

Phase IV: Organizing your findings

Phase V: Writing it up

What kind of annotation?



The research assignment is intended to help you engage with scientific approaches to answering questions about our world (Student Learning Objective #3 for GE Area R) and to help you develop your information competencies as you explore the scholarly literature in science.

Specifically, this assignment requires you to find related articles in the scholarly (i.e., peer reviewed) scientific literature and the popular literature.  You will compare the presentation of a particular scientific issue (the state of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change or "global warming") to a lay audience in the popular literature with a presentation on the same issue to a scientific audience in the scholarly scientific literature.  Your job will be to provide an analysis of each of these presentations that focuses on the argumentative strategies.  What sorts of evidence and reasoning do scientists use to persuade a lay audience?  How does this differ from the sorts of evidence and reasoning they use to persuade other scientists?  When scientists disagree about an issue, what are the sources of this disagreement, and how might it be resolved?

We will do this research using a "journal club" approach that scientists frequently use to keep up with developments in the literature. Each member of the "club" locates articles for the group to read and discuss together. This lets you consider a good sampling of the literature, but divides the labor of locating the sources — and of trying to work out what the heck the articles are saying!

The culmination of this project will be a bibliography with detailed annotation (something that could serve as a guide to readers trying to figure out what kind of literature is available on a particular topic) and a brief essay comparing the approaches of the popular and the scholarly scientific literatures to this topic.

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Phase I: Finding a group.

You will be working in groups of four to six people. It is not important that you have a lot of prior knowledge about the topic. Also, note that the focus of your research must be the scientific finding or question, not a moral, political, or social question (about how certain results should be used, what course of action they might require, etc.).


1. Before you join a group, you may want to talk with your classmates to find out who you think would be a compatible group-mate for the project. You can use the "Journal Club clearinghouse" topic in the Canvas Discussion area to have these talks

2. From the course homepage in Canvas, click the "People" link in the column on the left-hand side. On the "People" page, click the button that says "View User Groups". This will take you to a page that lists the Available Groups" for you to join. Choose one and click the "join this group" link to join it. If you end up changing your mind, you can switch yourself to another group by clicking that group's "join this group" link.

3. Once you've joined a group, you'll be able to discuss details of your project in the group's Discussion area. (To get there from the homepage, click "People," then "View User Groups," then the name of your group. Then, click the "Discussions" link in the column on the left-hand side.) Only members of your group (and your instructor) will be able to read what's posted in this thread.


You need to locate a Journal Club group and check in with it by February 17, 2014.

When your group is assembled, you can go on to Phase II.


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Phase II: Locating sources.

You may want to check out the library's InfoPower Tutorial to help you gear up for your literature search!

For each person in the group, you need to locate one popular source and one scholarly scientific source on the scientific finding or question (this term, the state of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change or "global warming"). In other words, if there are 5 people in your group, you need to end up with 5 popular sources and 5 scholarly scientific sources. However, you want to try to come up with articles that are relevant (i.e., they take up the finding or question directly) and useful (i.e., they convey information fairly clearly) — so you won't want to automatically choose the first articles you find. Instead, you'll want to do a literature search and "read around" to see what's out there.

Each member of your group is responsible for locating 1 popular source and 1 scholarly source. In the case of duplicates, the group will work together to locate additional sources as needed. To the extent that there is any controversy among the scientists about the question, you will want to make sure that the scholarly scientific sources your group locates represent different sides of that controversy.

In addition, each group's set of sources should include each least one example of each of the following:

  1. a scientist collecting and evaluating empirical climate data
  2. a scientist working with climate models and evaluating the reliabiity of their predictions
  3. a scientist writing for a popular audience
  4. a non-scientist writing for a popular audience
  5. a peer-reviewed research article
  6. an article from a mass-circulation newspaper or news magazine
  7. an article from a magazine or news outlet with a more focused audience
  8. a post from a high-traffic and/or high-authority blog focused on climate

(Note that these can be overlapping categories -- a peer-reviewed research article that presents and evaluates new climate data would check off #1 and #5, a blog post by a writer who is not a scientist could check off #4 and #8, etc.)

First task: Write a brief search strategy for your sources (no more than 1 page long) and post it to your group by Feb. 24

Before you write your search strategy, you may want to talk with your group about how to make sure you cover the different kinds of sources you need to find as a group. Or, you can just pick two kinds of sources from the list and write your search strategy for those, assuming the members of your group who post their search strategies after you post yours will cover the types of sources you did not. (This may be a good incentive not to be the last person in your group to post a search strategy!)

The following research tips may help you:

  1. The two library databases that will probably be most useful are Academic Search Premiere and Science Direct. I also recommend PubMed to search for scholarly scientific articles and LexisNexis to search for popular articles. If you're searching from off campus, you'll need the number on the barcode on your SJSU library card and a PIN (which you can get from the King Library circulation desk or online from
  2. You need to find articles from peer reviewed ("scholarly") scientific journals.  The best way to do this (in Academic Search Premiere) is to limit your database searches by selecting "scholarly works only" under search options; for the most part, this will return only scholarly sources, although there are exceptions.  (Science Direct doesn't include this option, but it seems to contain mostly peer reviewed journals.)  If you have any question about whether the article you're using is "scholarly", please ask me!
  3. While you "read around" your topic, you may find it useful to start by consulting popular discussions of the issue (e.g., in Scientific American, Newsweek, or the Science section of the New York Times), textbook discussions, or review articles (scholarly articles that discuss what claims different scientists have made, what evidence they have presented to support their claims, etc.)
  4. Read the abstracts in your search results to see what the different articles located by the search are about.  This will help you select an appropriate article.
  5. One good way to find two articles that relate to each other on a given topic is to use the reference section of one good article.  For example, if you have located an article disputing Osgood's evidence that vitamin C had anticancer activity, look up the reference to Osgood's article where he presents that evidence and try to find that article!
  6. You may be able to locate some articles as full text online.  Others may only be available in print journals.  Check the library's catalog to determine if they have the print journal you need!  (If they don't, you can usually use Link+ or Interlibrary Loan to get the article, but this can take a week or more.)


Second task: Find one of your sources. Post it and a brief "digest" of the source to your group by Mar. 10

Each source needs to be accessible to the group. There are three main ways to share your source with the online group:

  1. Post the URL (web address) if the article's full text is available on the web.
  2. Upload the full text of the article (as *.pdf, *.doc, *.rtf, or *.txt) if the article's full text is dowloadable.
  3. Scan the article an create a PDF file to upload, if you have a hardcopy of the article.

The digest of your source should answer the following questions, in your own words:

  1. What does the author of the source claim about anthropogenic global warming/climate change?
  2. What evidence does the author present to support this claim? Describe the nature of the evidence presented (e.g., data from measurements, calculations from models, comparisons or calculations or predictions and measurements, information about the methodology being used, information about the person making the claim, etc.).
  3. What objections to the claim does the author address, if any?
  4. How is the evidence presented supposed to support the author's claim? How successfully does it do so?


Third task: Find the second of your sources. Post it and a brief "digest" of the source to your group by Mar. 17

When the group has located all the sources, posted or linked those sources, and group members have posted a digest for each of their two sources, you can go on to Phase III.

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Phase III: Reading, evaluating, and analyzing sources.

Once your group has found its sources, the next task is to work through them together. Especially for the scholarly scientific sources, this may be difficult! This is part of why you're working in a group — so you can help each other in making sense of challenging articles.

Use the digest for each article as the initial post to kick off the discussion of that article. Replies to that post can add additional details, ask questions, and make connections to other articles in the set.

Here are some suggestions to guide your discussion of the articles:

There are four kinds of commentary you should try to give on each article. In order of depth and difficulty, they are:

Summary: a synopsis;  answers the question "what are the big claims being made?"

Description:  observation of external or intrinsic properties;  answers the question "how are these claims presented?"

Evaluation:  assessment of quality or effectiveness;  answers the question "how successfully does the author make the case to support these claims?"

Analysis:  discussion and interpretation of underlying ideas;  answers the question "what is the significance or larger meaning?" ("so what?")

For our purposes, the larger significance we're looking for is the insight these sources give us into how scientific issues are presented to lay people and how scientists discuss the same issues with an audience of fellow scientists. The differences here may tell us something interesting about the different assumptions and expectations scientists and lay people have about science.


Don't freak out about the technical details in the scholarly scientific sources! Instead, focus on issues like:

  • How do the authors structure their arguments?
  • What kinds of evidence do they think will persuade their readers?
  • What kinds of (potential) objections do they consider, and how are these answered?
  • What kinds of assumptions do they make, especially about their audience?

Your Journal Club group should begin working on Phase III by April 7, 2014 at the latest.

When your group has worked through an analysis of each of the sources, you can go on to Phase IV.

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Phase IV: Organizing your findings.

After your group has discussed its sources, you should start organizing your findings. One piece of this task will be deciding how you would rank these articles if you were presenting this information to someone who wanted to understand this particular scientific finding or question. Which articles are most useful? Which are least useful? Does usefulness in this sampling of the literature have to do with the depth and breadth of facts presented, or with jargon that makes it difficult to figure out what the author has to say, or with some other feature? Work out a tentative ordering of the articles (from most useful to least useful).

Another organizational task you'll need to figure out is how to distill your discussion of the articles to a brief summary, decription, and evaluation of each.

Finally, you'll want to work out your analysis of this body of literature. What does it tell us about the different pictures of science that scientists and lay people, dealing with this same scientific issue, are working with?

Your Journal Club group should begin working on Phase IV by April 14, 2014 at the latest.

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Phase V: Writing it up.

Your write-up will consist of two main components:

*An annotated bibliography of your sources.

*A brief (600 word) account of what your sources demonstrate about the differences in how scientific issues are presented to lay people and how scientists discuss the same issues with an audience of fellow scientists, as well as what these tell us about how the two groups view science. This is your group analysis of this sample of the literature.

To help you with your analysis, there will be a whole-class Journal Club discussion in class on Thursday, May 1, 2014. Each group will report some preliminary thoughts on the state of the scholarly and popular literature, then discuss these with members of other Journal Club groups.

What kind of annotation do I want? Each entry in your bibliography should include the following:

  1. Citation information, using APA format. (You can find lots of useful information about APA bibliographic formatting here.)
  2. A summary of the article of 2-4 sentences.
  3. A description of the article of 1-3 sentences.
  4. An evaluation of the article of 1-3 sentences.
  5. A ranking of the article's usefulness to someone trying to understand the scientific issue (e.g., "Out of the 10 articles, this is the 3rd most useful.")

Once your group has completed the annotated bibliography and group analysis, you can upload this via the "Assignment" link in Canvas.

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Your group's final submission must be uploaded (or a hard copy turned in) by classtime Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

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