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Finding Fact

Evaluating Science Writing Using a Neuroscience Study


Ellen J. Crapster-Pregont
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Columbia University
Logan D. Brenner
Department of Environmental Science
Barnard College, Columbia University


The art of fact-checking is especially important when evaluating science as represented in social media and the news. But how are students to acquire the skill? In this interrupted case study, students assume the role of a news editor tasked with deciding whether to publish a news piece about a recent scientific finding. Students work in small groups to compose a joint statement outlining whether the news article should be published, with support for their decision built on expectations for what constitutes “good,” accurate, and approachable scientific journalism. The selected articles are from the field of neuroscience and address how exercise affects memory; however, the framework of the case could easily be applied to different articles. Although originally designed for first-year college students in a multi-disciplinary survey science course, the case could be implemented in any course aiming to build scientific literacy. An alternative version of the case that incorporates a more thorough review of neuroscience content regarding the concepts of memory and decision-making is available in the Supplemental Materials.


  • Critically evaluate media articles covering a recent scientific finding.
  • Systematically read and interpret a peer-reviewed journal article.
  • Practice the use of statistical significance (95% confidence intervals and p-values) to inform knowledge of study method and results.
  • Communicate scientific findings to a general audience.
  • Apply knowledge of brain function localization, memory, and decision-making (alternative version).
  • Identify different functions of the hippocampus and converging evidence supporting the localization of these functions (alternative version).
  • Describe the concept and mechanism of reward prediction errors and how it relates to learning (alternative version).
  • Distinguish reward prediction error-driven decisions from evidence-based decisions (alternative version).


Science writing; science in the media; science journalism; neuroscience; memory; hippocampus; localization; memory; exercise; decision-making

Topical Areas

Science and the media

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

N/A, Interrupted, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Neuroscience  |   Science (General)  |   Science Education  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

The PDF file below is an alternative version of the case study featuring additional neuroscience content.

  memory_exercise_alt.pdf (~454 KB)

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.