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Genetic Modification: Evaluate Bias

Evaluate Bias

The topic of genetic modification can be contentious for a lot of reasons: environmental, economic, social, and ethical. But bias isn't necessarily a bad thing. A resource can be biased but still contain useful and credible information. The problem lies in those resources that that are not upfront about their political or social agenda, are disrespectful of their opposition, and that make arguments and statements without backing them up with facts or research.

This page will help you evaluate for bias in your sources and be thoughtful about those you finally choose to use in your assignment.

Questions to Think About

Looking at a sample article, "How to Stop Rogue Gene-Editing of Human Embryos?" let's do some analysis of its bias.

Whose perspective does this source represent?

  • Scientists concerned with Dr. He Jiankui's, a Chinese scientist, use of CRISPR (a gene editing technology) to edit and implant a human embryo in the mother's womb, resulting in the birth of twin girls.
  • Dr. He's motivations and actions are somewhat explained.

Who are the other stakeholders in this issue? How are they represented in the source?

  • Stakeholders mentioned:
    • Researchers in genetics, biochemistry, and bioethics: they have various opinions as to how the international community should respond.
    • National and international organizations such as the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences: have proposed a commission to create criteria to prevent unethical experiments like this one from happening again.
    • The parents of the babies: the informed consent process was apparently gone through so the parents would understand the risks.
    • The babies themselves: they're too young for us to know much about them yet.
  • Dr. He's viewpoint is not directly conveyed; we only have it through secondary sources. The article states "Dr. He...[hasn't] responded to emails from The New York Times."

What do others have to say about the source?

What is the evidence being used to support the argument?

  • First-hand testimony from researchers who had contact with Dr. He.
  • Interviews with experts in the field, such as Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who helped CRISPR, and the president of the National Academy of Medicine.
  • New England Journal of Medicine article by a bioethicist from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Chinese state media saying that Dr. He "'seriously violated' state reguations."

In conclusion?

The New York Times is an award-winning newspaper with a track record for good factual reporting. Though the newspaper has a liberal bias, this particular topic of gene editing human embryos is not necessarily contentious along liberal/conservative lines. The article is about the views of scientists and scientific organizations concerns about gene editing of human embryos, and it does indeed go out and directly ask these people. For getting this side of the picture, this would be a good source. If we want to know more about the argument in favor of increased experimentation with editing human embryos (which seems to be very much in the minority), we'll need to go find a different source.

 

Tip! If in doubt about whether a source is too biased, you don't need to use it just because you found it. Find one that is more even-handed instead.

 

Tip! Always look for different perspectives on an issue to get a more complete picture of the issue. That being said, the weight of evidence sometimes strengthens one "side" over another, and thus having balanced coverage of an issue might not mean giving equal time/space to each different argument. Giving equal time to two arguments can be misleading if one argument actually has a stronger case.

 

It's important to look for a variety of viewpoints and draw your own conclusions! 


Evaluating Bias in Media

Everyone has biases and no publication can be entirely neutral, though some are more biased than others. These resources can help you detect and evaluate for bias in different news media sources.


Want more help with evaluating sources?

Check out these other pages in our Research Guides, or ask a librarian!

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