Project for Statistics/Computer Science/Political Science C79
[Roles and Responsibilities] [Grading
Criteria] [Due Dates] [Resources]
Broadly, the project is to unearth the science behind a current
scientific news story that involves risk, to determine whether the news report was
accurate, and to assess the credibility of the underlying science.
35% of your grade in this course is based on this project.
We expect the project will take you 40 to 60 hours to complete—so
The research project has an individual component and a group
component. (Your grade does too.) For the
group component, you need to work with three other students.
you will be the team leader. The responsibilities of the team leader
differ from those of the other team members; see Roles
and Responsibilities, below.
- Be sure you have read Huff, D., 1954. How to
Lie with Statistics, W.W. Norton & Co., NY.
Read Chapter 28 of
Pick your team.
Teams should have
four students. (Advice
for forming study groups.)
Pick a team leader.
Read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los
Angeles Times, or another premier newspaper daily until you find an
article that reports a scientific finding involving risk that interests you.
“Scientific” is meant broadly: astronomy, biology,
chemistry, earth science, economics, epidemiology, medicine, public
health, political science, psychology, sociology, etc., are all
Scientific news items tend to fall into a few categories. One
category is a research announcement, tantamount to a press release.
The journalist covered a conference where a new result was
announced, or had a preview of an article about to appear in a
scientific journal. Such items usually cite the scientific
literature, which gives you a toehold to start your research
project. Another category is more like a review. Such articles tend
to quote individual scientists, but often do not cite the scientific
literature. It will be a little harder to do the background work for
such an article, but by searching the academic literature for the
names of the scientists who were quoted, you should be able to make
progress. If an article does not cite the literature and does not
quote experts by name, it will probably be hard to do the rest of
the project. Note that your news article needs to be a current
article (not a historical article from the past).
Find the scientific source on which the popular article is
based, or relevant articles by people cited in the news story, if
the news story does not itself cite the scientific literature. The
scientific source might be a book, a journal article, or a newly
released study, for example. There might be more than one source
cited by the news story; if so, pick one you find central to the
Make sure you can read the source.
DUE 5 April 2013:
The names, student ID numbers and email
addresses of the people in your team, and the name of the student
who will be the team leader, by email to Wayne Lee
Also, include a copy of the news item you propose to
use, and a copy of the principal scientific source.
We will inform you within a week whether your proposed topic and source are
If your item is not approved, we will be available to
meet with you during office hours to help you select a topic and source.
Each team member—other than
the team leader—should find at least one scientific article he
or she thinks is particularly relevant to the claims made in the
source article. (Start with the bibliography in the main source
article.) At least one of the articles should contradict the primary
scientific source you are studying. The team leader is responsible
for making sure at least one article is in this category.
(For the article that contradicts the primary source, we prefer
a scientific article—e.g., a book, journal article, or
published study—if one is available, but if not, you can
use another reasoned article that gives an opposing view and explains
or summarizes the science and reasoning behind the opposing view.
For example, a survey or opinion piece by a knowledgeable expert
from that field would qualify, if it presents an opposing view
and presents the reasoning and basis behind the opposing view.)
The team as a whole should write
several paragraphs summarizing the primary source article. Each team
member (other than the leader) should also write several paragraphs
summarizing the supporting article he or she chose. The summaries
- the scientific question the
- the names of the authors, and
their institutional affiliations
- the source of funding for the
research, if known, and the nature of that entity (government?
industry? private foundation?)
- a description of the data
- a brief description of how the
data were collected (survey? experiment? randomized or not?)
- an overview of how the data were
- the main conclusions
- a synopsis of the argument that
connects the data to the conclusions
- A bibliography item in APA style
for this article.
The team leader should collect the paragraphs from the team
members and circulate them within the team for peer editing. The
team leader should assemble these paragraphs into a well formatted
document. The names and SIDs of the students on the team should be
on the cover page. Each set of paragraphs should start on a new
page, labeled with the name and SID of the student who drafted them.
DUE 16 April 2013, at the beginning of class:
A written, well formatted document containing
the summary paragraphs described above.
Turn this in, on hard copy, at the beginning of class.
DUE 18 April 2013:
The team leader will give a 3-minute oral status report in class on
April 18, stating the
main point of the news item and your progress investigating it.
Now the real fun begins. Read the source article more
carefully. Determine whether the news item correctly reported the
findings of the source article, including any disclaimers or
qualifications. Note any gaps, overstatements or distortions. Read
the other four articles carefully. Assess whether their data and
methodology are trustworthy, and examine their arguments. Decide
whether you believe the claims in the source article.
DUE 3 MAY 2013 at noon:
An 8–12 page group paper based on your team's work.
The paper should include citations in APA style and a
bibliography in APA style listing all materials you relied on
(including the news item, the source article, the four other
scientific articles, and all other materials you relied on).
paper should be submitted by email to David Wagner, in Adobe pdf format.
We will not accept Microsoft Word files.
DUE DURING READING WEEK (6 MAY 2013):
A 10-minute oral presentation by each team, in which all four team members
The presentations should have 10 minutes of material presented by the team
and 5 minutes open for questions
from the instructors and the other students.
The time for your presentations will be scheduled in late April.
We will schedule two 2- or 2.5-hour blocks for presentations.
Everyone is expected to attend both blocks.
The presentations will be in 20 Barrows Hall, from 10am-noon
Roles and Responsibilities.
The team as a whole is
- Selecting the news story.
- Drafting the paragraphs
about the news story.
- Finding the primary
- Drafting the paragraphs
about the primary background source.
- Drafting the introduction
and conclusion of the report.
The team leader is responsible
Communicating with the instructors
about the project, including sending the contact information for
the team members and submitting the interim assignments.
Scheduling team meetings.
Ensuring that at least
one supplementary article chosen by the team members contradicts the
primary background source.
Making the in-class oral status report on 18 April.
Circulating drafts of the
work within the team for editing.
bibliography from information the team members provide.
contributions of the other team members into the final paper.
Coordinating the 15-minute oral presentation.
Other team members are
background papers, subject to the team leader's approval.
Providing the team leader
bibliographic information about the background papers.
Drafting paragraphs about
those background papers.
Checking and editing all
team members' work and the final report.
Helping prepare and present the 15-minute oral report.
All writing will be graded for
content, accuracy, logic, clarity, brevity, spelling, grammar and
Individual grades will be based 50% on the quality of the
paragraphs that student drafted, and 50% on the quality of the team
report as a whole.
An A+ team paper would address
the following—thoughtfully, not perfunctorily:
the news report present the science accurately? Were there errors,
distortions, or important omissions? Did the journalist see the big
picture? Or did he or she cherry-pick, perhaps to make the results
seem more sensational?
says? Is the source reliable on its face? Is the research funded by
industry or government or private foundation or ...? For whom do the
authors work? Is an axe being ground here?
the result pass the "sniff test?" Is it prima facie
plausible? What experience or knowledge do you have have that could
be used to check whether the conclusion is reasonable?
evidence do the authors have? What are the data? Was the data
collection fair, or possibly biased? Was sampling used? What was the
population? The frame? Might frame bias be an issue? What were the
sampling units? The sampling design? Was it a sample of convenience?
A quota sample? A systematic sample? Was the sample self-selected?
Was the sample drawn at random? How big was the sample? What was the
response rate? Is nonresponse bias an issue? Are the authors
extrapolating beyond their sample? Beyond the sampling frame?
this an experiment or an observational study? Is it a controlled
experiment? If there were controls, were they historical? Is this a
longitudinal study? A cross-sectional study? If there were human
subjects, was the experiment blind? Double-blind? Were subjects
assigned at random to treatment and control? What was the actual
wording of any survey questions? Do the questions seem to be worded
to elicit particular responses?
methods were used to analyze the data? Were the methods appropriate?
Are the methods generally reliable? Are there situations in which
those methods tend to distort the picture? What are the assumptions
of the methods? Were the assumptions justified in this case? Would
violations of the assumptions matter much? If so, can you figure out
how plausible violations of the assumptions would affect the
confounding likely to be an issue? What variables might be
confounders? Did the authors control for the confounders? If so,
how? Might aggregation cause confounding here? Is Simpson's paradox
an issue? Is the ecological fallacy an issue?
is the logical structure of the argument? Is it sound? Are there
obvious gaps or errors in the logic? Is causation confused with
association? Did somebody change the subject? Are there realistic
possibilities not contemplated by the argument?
it be possible to reproduce the research from the description in the
article? If not, what's missing? Were ad
hoc choices made
that might influence the results?
the authors confuse statistical significance with practical
significance? Do they report uncertainties? Are their uncertainty
calculations appropriate? Do
they take into account sampling error? Bias? Specification error
(error from using the wrong variables or the wrong model)? Do the
uncertainty calculations depend on questionable assumptions about
the origin of the data (e.g., independence)?
there other explanations of the data just as plausible as those
advanced by the authors? Did the authors consider those
explanations? Did they have good arguments against those competing
the results presented in a neutral way, or were technical devices
used to make things look more impressive (gee-whiz graphs,
one-dimensional pictures, ...)?
the authors cite papers that disagree with their conclusions? Do the
authors seem circumspect, or do they seem to be stacking the deck?
study or experiment might be done to confirm or dispute the
research? What would be involved in conducting that research? Is it
Oral presentations will be graded for clarity, style, and appropriate
use of graphics.
5 April 2013:
The names, student ID numbers and email
addresses of the people in your team, the name of the student
who will be the team leader,
the news article you propose to use, and the
principal scientific source,
by email to Wayne Lee.
16 April 2013, start of class: A single document containing the
18 April 2013, start of class: 3-minute oral status report by team leader.
3 May 2013, noon: Group paper in Adobe pdf format
(not Microsoft Word), by email to David Wagner.
6 May 2013: 10-minute oral presentation by each team, in 20 Barrows Hall
Copyright 2006–2013. P.B.
Stark. All rights reserved.
Last modified 21 March 2013