These questions will help you improve your scientific literacy, and could help when you write your own stories.

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By Steve Buist, The Hamilton Spectator

Not all information is created equal, especially when it comes to science and medicine. Reporters have to improve their scientific literacy in order to tell the whole story. To that end, here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you read a piece about science and medicine:

1. Who is saying it and what’s their reputation?

2. Where and how are the results being presented?

3. Who paid for the work and who pays the researcher?

4. Are you reading anecdotes or evidence?

5. Are there comments from an arm’s-length, unbiased expert? How does that fit in to the picture?

6. What do the numbers really tell me?

7. How large was the study? (Generally, the bigger, the better.)

8. How was the study carried out? A test tube? Mouse? Dying patient? Healthy patient? (The closer the results are to the general population, the more important they are. Phase III clinical trials, for example, are more noteworthy than Phase I clinical trials.)

9. How substantial are the benefits and how big are the risks?

10. Are opposing viewpoints included? If so, what’s their reputation?

Steve Buist is an investigative reporter and feature writer at the Hamilton Spectator. He has a science degree in human biology and a Master’s degree in journalism. His thesis examined the issue of how Canadian newspapers report the financial conflicts of interest of scientists who conduct medical research.