Photos by Kelli O’Brien
If you paid a visit last summer to the Seneca Park Zoo, you probably had a conversation with one of our informative ZooTeens; perhaps about the palm oil crisis affecting orangutans, or the rise in poaching affecting elephants. How did they do? Did they know their stuff? Were they biased or balanced?
When you consider how many competing ideas are out there about conservation topics, it can be pretty difficult to find reliable research, or good advice about the best steps you can take to help protect wild animals and preserve our environment. Our ZooTeens spend a great deal of time researching exactly that, giving them a great foundation to expertly answer any questions you might have! And we help them get it right.
I was fortunate enough to assist with developing these research skills at a recent ZooTeen Leaders session. Together, Julie Babulski, one of the ZooTeen Leaders program staff, and I investigated claims (or assertions) made by a group. We paid special attention to whether a claim came from a biased source or not and whether it was supported by evidence or opinion. We made sure to evaluate the quality and objectivity of several different claims, including magazine articles, advertisements and informational brochures.
In order to practice some of the notions we discussed, we then created factual, but biased, advertisements to show how an agenda can sway the presentation of information. One great example used a Center for Disease Control statistic to advertise the danger of snake bites and then supported their importance to ecosystems with a quote from a National Geographic article. Both of these are factual – snakes are extremely important members of our ecosystem, but the best way to stay safe is to avoid them when you see them. Can you spot the bias that these expert, reliable sources might have?
Identifying bad claims can prove useful in all sorts of ways! It might help you to select the best foodstuffs for your family’s needs, help scientists and engineers review each other’s work, or even help uncover the best steps you can take to help preserve our environment!
If you have any questions about any claims you might read about wildlife or conservation, feel free to stop by the Zoo and ask any of our knowledgeable docents, educators, or animal care staff — or starting on July 7, any of our stupendous ZooTeens. I hope I don’t seem too biased for saying so!
– Tim Shank, Interpreter / Educator