Assessing contemporary science
Assessing contemporary science

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8.1 The PROMPT criteria

When studying a report about science, or searching for and reading the scientific literature, you should remember to use a system like the ‘PROMPT’ criteria, which are presented in Table 1. Such approaches provide a logical framework against which to assess the quality of the information or data presented.

It should be recognised, though, that not all criteria may be entirely appropriate to apply for a given article. Indeed, the concept was originally designed to assess research literature, rather than news or other online content. Similarly, other frameworks are available for evaluating scientific articles (Hoskins et al., 2007 and 2011), but PROMPT provides a useful starting point when thinking about analysing written information.

Table 1 The PROMPT criteria used to assess the quality of information
Presentation

Is the information as readable as it could be, given its age, condition and format?

Is the information clearly laid out and easy to navigate?

Is it obscured by busy designs, animations or images?

Relevance

Does the information you have found meet the need you have identified?

Does it make sense in the particular context in which you are working? (Here you could consider what the scope of the article is, and whether what you are researching fits within that.)

Objectivity

Does the author or owner of the information make clear their own position, and/or alternative views?

Who funded the research, where was it conducted, and consequently, is there any potential for bias in the interpretation?

Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal?

Are the findings evidenced by reliable references?

Method

Is it clear how the research was carried out?

Were the methods appropriate?

Does it permit the author to come to a sound and reasonable conclusion?

Provenance

Can the author or source of the information be considered a reliable authority on the subject?

To address this, you could consider things like:

  • Do they have several publications in this area?
  • What is their position: are they an academic in a university or a research institute, or a citizen scientist?
  • Has the information been peer reviewed by appropriate individuals?
Timeliness

When was the information produced?

Is it recent, dated or obsolete?

Does the age of the information matter on this occasion? (To answer this, consider perhaps whether the work has been cited recently by others.)

You may find the PROMPT criteria valuable in deciding which articles to study in the future. For instance, if you need to decide which of two articles to consider in detail, you could briefly work through a PROMPT analysis for each article, scoring them between 1 and 5 for each criterion (say, where 1 = good and 5 = poor). At the end of your PROMPT evaluation, add up the scores. You can then use this information to quickly compare the two articles, and make a more informed decision about which one would be most useful to study further.

When you have applied PROMPT a couple of times, you’ll find yourself using it as a matter of routine.

In the next activity, you will consider a report on plastic pollution in the ocean. First, as an introduction to one aspect of this topic, you should watch Video 5.

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Video 5 Plastics in the ocean.
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Question 5 Smaller plastic particles

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Based on what you heard in Video 5, why are there growing concerns about the smaller plastic particles?

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Answer

There are growing concerns as the effects of small bits of debris are less well known, and over whether the small plastic particles can become trapped and retained after ingestion by wildlife. They may also act as a vector to transport chemicals to the creatures that ingest them, which could make them toxic to other animals. This affects both creatures in the seas, beaches and consequently may influence our food chain.

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