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Copyright & Citing Sources: Chasing Citations

DISCLAIMER: Material provided is only intended as a guide. This guide is not a substitute for professional legal advice.

To demonstrate the importance of accurate citations, here is the workflow of an investigation.

If I read an article and something in it makes me curious... I might want to go to the paper that was referenced to do additional research.

Example:  Article I started reading...

While reading I was struck by a quote:

What!  How can that be? 

Since this information is attributed to (Impey, Buxner, Antonellis, Johnson, & King, 2011), I want to read their paper to find out why they came to this conclusion.

 Immediately I wonder:

  • Is it a valid conclusion? 
  • How many people were tested?
  • How were they tested?
  • Is it one of those studies that is too limited to apply to a more general population?

So I chase the citation...

Notes: [With my comments]


  • The survey instrument has been stable for over 20 years and has been administered in the same fashion throughout that span.  [Impressive]
  • 500 completed questionnaires per year across the 20 years of the project so far, with fairly uniform time coverage.
  • [Not bad, at least it isn’t one 30 person class done once.  Each year is like a replication and check of responses.]

What kinds of pseudo-science do they believe it?


UA students got an average of 7.2 (SD = 1.5) items correct out of the 9 items shared on the NSF survey (80%)

and an average of 11.2 (SD = 2.3) correct overall out of 15 (75%; the astrology and the inflation questions were left out).

[SD means standard deviation + or – the score. 

SO range 7.2 (SD = 1.5) is 6.7 to 8.7 of 9 questions answered correctly

And  11.2 (SD = 2.3) range is 8.9 to 13.5 of 15 questions answered correctly]

”Belief in pseudoscience runs high.

  • About 40% believe that the positions of the planets affect everyday life, and the - In this case, it is possible that they are aware of astrology’s roots in observational astronomy, which means the astrology item must be interpreted with caution.
    • Education majors—the cohort of future teachers—perform worse than the average on almost all the individual questions and in terms of overall scientific literacy.
  • same percentage [40%] think some people have psychic powers.
  • About one in six [16.67%] believe that aliens visited ancient civilizations,
  • one in four [25%] think that faith healing is a legitimate alternative to conventional medicine,
  • a quarter [25%] think that some numbers are lucky for some people (Figure 4).
  • One striking aspect of the analysis is a null result: None of these beliefs is strongly correlated with level of science literacy.”
  • One in three [33%] think that antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria,
  • one in four [25%] think that lasers work by focusing sounds waves,
  • one in five [20%] think that atoms are smaller than electrons,
  • and one in five  [20%] either do not believe or are unaware that humans evolved from earlier species of animals
  • and [20%]  that the Earth goes around the Sun in a year.
  • Only one in five  [20%] undergraduates say that astrology is “not at all” scientific,
    • although that fraction increases from 17% to 34% as they move through the university
  • half [50%] of all science majors say that astrology is either “sort of” or “very” scientific (see Figure 5). [See Cognitive Biases that screw up your decisions]

But surely things have gotten better in the last decade, with the Internet and all...

Notes: [With my comments]

METHODOLOGY  -[Significant population used]

questionnaire was administered to 1,870 Chinese college students sampled college students to determine their scientific literacy levels

Table 5. Students’ scientific literacy score against variables of region and major  [Very wide range! About 65% to 85% answered correctly by my approximation. ]

[Interesting quote: ]

"In terms of scientific attitude, the level was generally considerably lower than those of the other constructs, with less than 40% of the students disagreeing that astrology is scientific, while a similarly weighted result was found among US students"  (Impey, 2013; Impey et al., 2017 [Oh good, something newer]).

[So, I go chase the citation. But the 2017 paper is not by Impey and the Impey paper is not 2017!]

Impey, C. (2013). Science literacy of undergraduates in the United States. In A. Heck (Ed.), Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy (pp. 353-364). Heidelberg: Springer.

Impey, C., Buxner, S., Antonellis, J., Johnson, E., & King, C. (2011). A twenty-year survey of science literacy among college undergraduates. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(4), 31-37. Retrieved from

Wenninger, A., Weingart, P., & Wormer, H. (2017). Social media and digital science communication: Analysis and recommendations for dealing with risks and opportunities in a democracy. Retrieved from [Talks about level of media use increasing, not % believing in pseudo-science...  Therefore the citation should have read 2011 not 2017.  How disappointing.]

Notes: [With my comments]

[Dissertation literature review plus small case study]

Methodology: [My interest is in literature review]

"In conclusion, the prior research discussed in this chapter points out that science literacy is a complex construct that is often difficult to define and is defined differently among researchers." [If different measures are used, it is hard to compare results]

So what is current state of affairs of Scientific literacy among college students?

Notes: [With my comments]

Over 12,600 non-science majors at the University of Arizona [Continuation of previous Impey paper...has anything changed?]

over a period of 27 years.

[Takeaway: taking science classes only increased literacy score from 71% to 78%]

The percentage of Americans that regard astrology as unscientific has increased from 50% in 1979 to 65% in 2014, in striking contrast with a widespread undergraduate belief in astrology. Over the survey period the percentage of college students who consider astrology as not at all scientific was persistently only about 20%.

In sum, and without any substantial improvement in 27 years:

  • about 40% think that antibiotics kill viruses (Q13)
  • and think that lasers work by focusing sound waves (Q3),
  • about 20% don’t know how long it takes for Earth to orbit the Sun (Q10),
  • don’t realize electrons are smaller than atoms (Q4),
  • don’t accept that humans evolved from animals (Q7),
  • don’t know that the oxygen that we breathe was produced by plants (Q2),
  • and they think that humans coexisted with dinosaurs (Q8)
  • and that radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it (Q12).

To many educators and scientists these are eye-popping holes in basic scientific knowledge.

modest 7% gain in knowledge after three science courses  

belief in astrology, where students were already more credulous than the general public, is increasing [Yipes!]

The take home messages of this study are that

(1) college students think about science in a very favorable light but have substantial holes in their basic scientific knowledge,

(2) any gains in knowledge as a result of required science courses are modest or absent,

(3) the scientific literacy of college students at a large, typical public university has not increased despite proven effectiveness of active learning methods, an increase in the taking of high school science courses, and a rising awareness of the importance of science and technology, and

(4) shifts in student opinions about scientific issues are probably more strongly framed by exposure to science in the media than by formal instruction in the classroom. We note that caution should be used in extrapolating the results of this work to the entire college-age population in the U.S., in particular due to non-uniform sampling of the participants in this survey. [Good point.]


  • I should look for other researchers using the same questionnaire and find out if their results are similar.
  • This points out the importance of teaching students how to evaluate sources.
  • If you don't know how to evaluate information, all information seems equal. 
  • Even more so now that many varieties of information and misinformation are equally easy to find.   
  • In fact, the credible information is often buried behind a paywall, so it is harder to find!
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