Investigating Claims About Cancer

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Students will be able to identify claims about UV exposure presented in a selection of media items, then design, execute, and report the results of an experiment designed to test one such claim.

Big Idea

Scientists use systematic and rigorous criteria to evaluate claims about factors associated with cancer.


5 minutes

Scientists use systematic and rigorous criteria to evaluate claims about factors associated with cancer. Consumers can evaluate such claims by applying criteria related to the source, certainty, and rationality of the supporting information. As instructors read through the materials and outline of this lesson, Investigating Claims About Cancer, each is encouraged to identify other ways to take an even deeper dive into such a relevant topic (i.e. the often unregulated billion dollar business of sunscreens, SPF or UV protection clothing, hats, umbrellas, etc.).

After completing this activity, students will:
• understand that many people and organizations make claims about factors associated with the development of cancer and about agents that may help prevent or cure cancer
• be able to explain why biotechnologists must evaluate such claims by applying systematic and rigorous criteria


15 minutes

Students will begin this lesson by examining a collection of print ads such as Media Items #1-#4 as well as a curation of videos of commercial ads proposing the relationship between UV radiation and skin cancer selected by the instructor for their classroom setting.

As a springboard to further discussion and evaluation in the lesson, students should identify or select one ad that raises their concern in regards to the claims being made about cancer prevention and explain their reactions in writing using reflection strategies such as a Quikwrite, Stop and Jot, or Think-Pair-Share.


20 minutes

Students are directed to continue their evaluation of their commercial media items, then work together to identify the major claims that their assigned item makes about the product, ultraviolet (UV) light, and cancer. Ask students also to describe the evidence on which these claims seem to be based. Provide teams about 5 minutes for group discussion and capturing key points of each groups dialogue by charting. Conduct a brief class discussion about the media items by asking the following questions:

"What claims did you find in the media items? What evidence did the items provide to support these claims?" (Sample response: There are claims that if these items are purchased the products will protect the buyer from harmful UV radiation and thus cancer.)


20 minutes

Explain to students that the media items that they were given to review do not provide any evidence to support the claims being depicted and that biotechnologists must devise and then utilize a systematic approach to evaluating scientific claims. This approach must include the unbiased evaluation of data in the form of measurements and observations.

Determine students prior knowledge by asking:

“What claims about such products and/or cancer have you heard during your lifetime? From whom (and where) do you hear such claims?”

Students likely have heard many claims. Allow them to list not only outlandish claims that they may have heard in the media, but also more reasonable claims that they may have heard from parents, friends, and even reputable magazines and health care professionals. Technically, any information that we hear or read about cancer is a “claim” that someone is making.

Ask: “How do scientists evaluate such claims?”

Students should already understand that scientists evaluate such claims through rigorous experimentation, the requirement of evidence to support a claim, careful review by other scientists of procedures and conclusions, and the requirement that results be replicable. Look for these and similar answers from your students; if they are not forthcoming, ask probing questions such as, “Is it sufficient for a scientist to make a claim without providing evidence to back it up?” and “If certain results can be obtained only by one scientist working in a particular laboratory, what would you think of claims based on these results?”

Finally, explain to students that in this activity students will have an opportunity to test claims that are similar to those they encountered in their media items and will devise questions that citizens can ask about claims they hear in the popular press and from other sources.


20 minutes

Suggested Elaborate activities:

1. Design an experiment to investigate one of the claims being posed in the media items. Begin by viewing the supporting document, Investigating UV Radiation with UV Sensitive Beads, for a plethora of investigation ideas!

2. Research some of the claims in the media items and develop an elevator pitch presentation to defend the claim on the advertisement (Have students present their pitches in front of a mock FDA panel who will establish if they are allowed to further advertise their claim.)

3. Have students complete a combination of BOTH idea #1 and #2! Begin by developing an experiment to test a claim. Based on the experiment’s proposed results design an advertising campaign and/or elevator pitch.


30 minutes

Have students design and then utilize an established approach to evaluating claims and investigate the correlation between UV Radiation and Skin Cancer. Using their own established approach have students determine if they accept claims linking UV exposure to skin cancer, accept these claims tentatively until further research can be done, OR reject the claims entirely.

If appropriate, how can students act on the basis of their evaluation of this claim? What we can do as a biomedical community to address this claim based on the outcome of their evaluation?