Study Shows D&E Students Can Distinguish ‘Real’ from ‘Fake’ Science-related Content

Date Posted: 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

ELKINS – Davis & Elkins College students demonstrate a proficiency in differentiating between “real” and “fake” science-related Internet and social media content, according to a small independent study conducted by two D&E biology professors. The results also indicate that the students’ accuracy in evaluating the sources has little to do with their major, but is influenced by class level or experience with primary literature.

Professors of Biology Dr. Shawn Stover and Dr. Michelle Mabry decided to conduct the study after reading a similar one from a larger university that produced unfavorable results.

Stover and Mabry’s study was conducted over a three-semester period, spring and fall of 2017 and spring 2018, and involved 134 D&E students. Each was presented with five examples the professors garnered from social media and the Internet with the true names of businesses and products changed. The students were asked to rank the reliability of the information and provide reasoning for their determination. Students’ responses were assessed by major, class level, and experience in analyzing primary literature.

Results of the mean rubric composite scores demonstrated no significant differences between majors. However, upperclassmen had significantly higher scores than underclassmen. Additionally, students who had some experience analyzing primary literature had significantly higher composite scores than students with no experience.

“Although underclassmen had unsophisticated rationales for their rankings, older students demonstrated much better critical evaluation skills, as indicated by higher composite scores,” Stover said in presenting the findings.

CAPTION: Davis & Elkins College Professor of Biology Dr. Shawn Stover discusses examples of source information he and Professor of Biology Dr. Michelle Mabry presented to students in a study to determine if the students could accurately assess the reliability of science-related Internet and social media content.

Related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Davis & Elkins College is located in Elkins, 2 hours east of Charleston, 3 hours south of Pittsburgh and 4 hours west of Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit the College website at or call 304-637-1243.

Study Shows D&E Students Can Distinguish ‘Real’ from ‘Fake’ Science-related Content