When it comes to looking for information on contentious or controversial issues there are two databases at the top of my list – CQ Researcher and Opposing Viewpoints in Context (formerly Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center). I also always check for books on the subject.
At Opposing Viewpoints I always like to check the Issues tab to see if they’ve already made a page for my topic. The search engine will work as well, but finding a page already laid out makes my research easier.
In this case they have a page on genetic engineering. On this page I have access to OpEds (opinion editorials) both supporting and opposing genetic engineering. I will also find statistics, scholarly articles, news articles about my topic, magazine articles, and websites. Often there will also be video and audio news reports.
At CQ Researcher when I search for genetic engineering my top result is “Genes and Health,” but as I scan the top results I see an entry for “Designer Humans,” which seems more on topic. Even though the report on “Designer Humans” is from 2001 one of the nice things about CQ Researcher is that it provides a list of related reports. So, even if the report you find is a little dated the list of related reports will let you see if a more recent report is available. In this case the newer related reports cover the “Cloning Debate,” “Reproductive Ethics,” and “Genes and Health,” all of which might help provide more information. At the end of each report a short bibliography is included which will guide you to books, articles, and websites on the topic.
There are a few things I’m looking for when I start doing background research on a broad topic like this. First, I’m looking for unique words, short phrases, and people’s names I can use for search terms. I’m also constantly generating questions that I’ll want to answer. Some of the questions I will want to answer are straightforward factual questions (maybe about the history of genetic splicing, or the first mammal to be cloned). But, I’m also working on coming up with a viable research question, or a question I can turn into a thesis statement. “Is it possible to clone humans?” for example will prompt me to ask the factual question “What is cloning” and may lead to a thesis like “Cloning has many health care benefits,” or “Cloning creates a dangerous precedent.”
In addition to searching the above databases I will also look in the online catalog to see if the library holds a book on the topic that interests me.
At the online catalog I search first for genetic engineering. I see that I’m getting a lot of government documents, but what I really want is a book I can check out, so I restrict my search (by using the ‘Quick Limit’ drop down menu on the right-hand side of my search results) to Main collection. This will restrict my search to only those books books on the second floor that can be checked out.
When I scan the new results list I see (by looking at the dates on the right-hand side) that the top results are older than I’d like. I use the ‘Sort by’ drop-down menu to re-sort from newest to oldest. Now I see several books I want to take a look at: Mutation: The History of an Idea From Darwin to Genomics by Elof Axel Carlson, Gene Control by David S. Latchman, and Human Performance Enhancement in High-risk Environments: Insights, Developments, and Future Directions From Military Research edited by Paul E. O’Connor and Joseph V. Cohn. I’ll go look for these books on the second floor of the library. Sometimes the book may not be exactly what I’m looking for, but I’m always careful to look at the other books I find nearby. Often one of those books will hold some of the information I’m looking for.
And, as always, if you need more help finding information don’t hesitate to ask one of the librarians at the Reference Desk or send me an email — David Davisson.