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ASTR 130: Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe: Evaluating Sources

A guide to resources, tools, and tips for completing your final project for Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe.

How to Evaluate Sources

Evaluating sources can be difficult — there is so much information online. It can be easy for a small fake story to be taken up by news agencies that do not check. In addition, when searching in places like Google, the first page of results is often a combination of sensationalist stories and how-to/fact lists, which may not have been curated or signed by someone with the appropriate science background. 

To make things even more complicated, scientists will often do outreach in popular publications to increase the reach of their research.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Check the bylines of authors writing news pieces about science.
  • Look at the credentials of a researcher or science writer. Does the person have a degree in the field? Is the person currently involved in academia? If ze left, is ze employed in another industry (e.g., data science)? Many people trained as scientists and academics are going into "alt-ac" careers, but they still generally have some background in the field.
  • Can you locate the original paper a news source is talking about?
  • For a scholarly article, is the journal listed in the JCR? Ulrichsweb?
  • If the journal is not in JCR or Ulrichsweb, Google the journal title and the word "predatory" or "scam." What comes up when you search? Sometimes, journals are not in the JCR because they are too small or too new to meet the strict inclusion criteria. At other times, they're scam journals. Ask your professor or librarian if you need assistance.

Really, Fake Journals?

The results show up in Google.

Google's algorithms cannot tell the difference between real and fake journals. They both look like real ones to algorithms, so pay attention!

Does the Journal …

  • Claim to have an "International Impact Factor"? That one is fake. The real name is the ISI/Thomson Reuters/Clarivate Analytics Impact Factor, and you can easily check whether a journal is indexed there by visiting the Journal Citation Reports from Clarivate while on the Yale network or VPN.
  • Have a title that sounds closer to another, more famous journal?
  • Have an entry in It's more likely to be legitimate if this is true!

Look at the editorial staff.

Many of these scam journals add the names of prominent scientists to their editorial boards. These scholars may not even know that they are listed! Look up the editors and see if they list their editorship of the journal on their CVs. When in doubt, ask a professor, librarian, or trusted colleague!

Want more info?

Check out our guide to scholarly journals at

How can you spot fakes?

These tips are mostly about avoiding fake news, but they can also be applied to some scam emails and fake journal websites.

Does it make you anxious or angry?

Take a deep breath. Many websites post emotion-provoking material on purpose to get more hits and advertising revenue. Instead, focus on the arguments. Underline or take note of any specific passages that stand out to you.

Check the domain name.

Does it end with or .com.lo? is not the real ABC News website.

Who is the author or creator?

Check the About Us section or the author bio. What is their motivation? Are they an expert in this area? Where do they get their funding?

Check the sources.

Fact-checking websites such as,,, and some browser plugins can help you identify fake — and overhyped — news. You can also see if the sources an article uses are reliable. Where do they get their data? Are they speaking with credentialed experts? People with experiential expertise?

Assess gramer, speling and punctuation,,

Credentialed journalists and their publications often use something like the Chicago Manual of Style to format and proofread their writing. While yes, some people may have a defective keyboard and miss a few of the doubled keystrokes while proofreading, news articles have a lot of eyes on them as they go through fact-checking and editorial, so typos should be rare.

Is anyone else reporting on this story?

Check websites across the ideological spectrum. Note any who are interviewing credentialed experts. shows headlines from across the political spectrum so you can scan the news all at the same time.