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types of resources

There are myriad sources of information available to us--more and more with the advent of the World Wide Web and the ever-increasing development of other means of mass communication. The following is a list of the basic types of resources to which we can turn for information. As you review the list you may note that as the accessibility of the information increases the reliability of the information often tends to decrease! Finding reliable information may take a little more work on your part, but the rewards can be great indeed.

scientific journals

Scientific journals are the source of most of our scientific knowledge. This is where the results of individual scientific studies are presented and is the ultimate source of information that forms the basis of sources 1-5 (or other sources). As a source of information, scientific journals can be hard to find and, for anybody not versed in the specific field of study, can be very hard to understand. How many people could read and understand an article entitled "Selective perturbation of apical membrane traffic by expression of influenza M2, an acid-activated ion channel, in polarized Madin-Darby canine kidney cells"? On the other hand, being able to access this literature can be of great importance, for if the information given here is not reliable, none of the other sources where it is presented will be either.

government documents

Various governmental agencies collect vast amounts of information on a wide array of subjects, but the information was difficult access without the aid of an experienced librarian. The internet now makes these resources readily accessible. Governmental reports are often not peer-reviewed which can lessen their reliability. However, governmental sources are the very best sources of information based on census data, for information on diseases, for information on traffic and flight accidents, etc.

non-profit organizations

Non-governmental non-profit organizations can also be sources of reliable information. Such organizations often act as clearing houses of useful information on specific topics. The American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association are important sources of information on health related subjects, for example. However, it is important to keep in mind that non-profit organizations may represent vested interests and present information that is slanted to their own self-interests. The Institute for Creation Research, for example, is a religious organization that presents information attempting to "scientifically" support the biblical account of earth history. To do so, it presents only selected and highly opinionated sources of information.


Texts are excellent sources of biological information. They are particularly useful in giving background information on current topics and defining scientific terms and jargon. As the subject of the text becomes narrower, the difficulty of reading often increases but so does the depth of coverage on its particular subject. Keep in mind that texts are designed to review and present a large body of information and therefore may not address some "current" scientific news directly.

science journalism

Science editors of major newspaper and new magazines offer more information on scientific news. While they still deal with the "science in the news" they often present information from different points of view on the subject. They present scientific information without jargon which makes them very accessible sources. However, they may not cite written references and often do not explain how the information was gathered. Both of these are very important in assessing the reliability of the information.

popular press

Probably the single most common means of getting information about the world is through the popular press: newspapers, magazines, and television news. Scientific information presented in these formats is also presented briefly and highly summarized. While it is usually better referenced than information in ads--usually a source of the information is acknowledged--it is still often difficult to assess the information itself. There is a tendency, too, of delivering information in its most dramatic light. Scientific "breakthroughs" are often presented without proper perspective and so can be very misleading.


One the most accessible forms of information are advertisements; in fact it's their nature to thrust themselves on us. Ads often present scientific information in support of their claims. The information contained in ads is usually brief and simply stated. However, it is rarely given in a way that allows us to assess its reliability or leads us to other sources of corroborating information. And remember, it is presented for a purpose: to persuade us to do something someone wants us to do. Most ads should be approached with skepticism.

You will probably encounter advertisements while searching for most of the other types of resources. Magazine ads, mail order flyers and Internet advertising are just some examples of what you might encounter.