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Ecology: Evaluating Information

This research guide contains resources used to find information on ecology-related topics.


When examining a print periodical or journal, or a website, you need to ask yourself some questions when trying to figure out its ideological orientation.  You will want to recognize editorial points of view for many reasons: e.g., to find competing perspectives on particular policy proposals.

Use the checklist in the box to the right to answer these questions.  (The checklist is based on documents used in a course titled AMC500:  Research Foundations taught by Robert L. Houbeck, Jr. at the University of Michigan-Flint.)


check box Who is the author or publisher?  Is it a professional association, foundation, or institute, or is it anindividual? What do you know, or can you find out about either one? Don’t assume that because a title or site is produced by a professional group or a foundation with a neutral-sounding name, that it does not have a specific point of view.
check box Can you tell how the title or site is supported?  From subscriptions and advertising?  Subsidized by a professional association, or foundation?  Look for interests.  Why is somebody spending money to produce this publication or site?  There is nothing wrong with wanting to advance a particular point of view – but it is important to be aware that you are in the presence of people who have a specific agenda.
check box Examine editorials, if any, in the journal or on the site.  Can you think of a title or site that is similar in editorial point of view?  Can you find a title or site with a contrasting view?
check box Who is on the editorial board?  Who are contributors?  Do you recognize any names?  Can you place any of them on the political or cultural spectrum?  Does there, for example, appear to be an ideological mix (which would tend to suggest that the title is striving to more centrist, at least on certain issues), or do the people with whom you are familiar seem to cluster around one portion of the spectrum of political/cultural views?  Again, there’s no special virtue in being “centrist”.  Each issue usually has a mainstream view on the left and the right, plus views that push or pull on either side.  What type of title or site is this one – a mainstream gatekeeper or a leading-edge pusher?
check box What types of articles are published?  News, commentary, essays, long, short, footnoted? (Footnotes don’t necessarily mean “objectivity.”)  That is, is this a publication or site to which you would go for more in-depth pieces, or for shorter, more topical perspectives?
check box What audience appears to be addressed?  General readers, professionals, or opinion leaders?
check box Are there book reviews?  What types: popular or scholarly?  These can lead you to other sources.  They can also signal the perspective of the journal and its audience.
check box Are there letters to the editor?  Are they brief or extended?  Are there responses from editor and authors?  How much room does the editor give letters?  What can you tell about the publication from the types of letters published and the writers of those letters? (e.g., the letters to the editor in the New York Review of Books or in Commentary are often in themselves excellent sources for the views of influential public leaders).
check box How long has the title been publishing or the site been in operation?  Is it newer, perhaps started to respond to a particular set of concerns, and seeking a place in the arena of public discussion?  Is it an older title or site, more established, a kind of gatekeeper, with articles that may carry more weight because they appear in a publication that defines the parameters of current orthodoxy.
check box Can you discern a point of view?  Every publication has certain perspectives.  The challenge for you (the reader) is to figure out what they are, to be aware of them, to examine them, and to evaluate the degree to which they conform to your best judgment about “what is the case.”

Subject Guide

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Helen Yoas
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