Monday, May 19, 2008

20. Evaluating The Read/Write Web

Now that we are all aware of just how easy it is to publish on the Internet (blogs, Wikipedia edits, YouTube videos, etc.) does this change how we approach information we read on the web? For me, it does! In the past, most "published" works - that is, articles and books - went through an editorial process before they were released to a wide audience. This doesn't mean that they were all perfectly factual with no errors at all, it just means that someone other than the author saw the material and approved it for publishing. Now, a single blog post can reach just as many people as a single article printed in Time, Newsweek or any "peer-reviewed" journal - with no one but the author ever seeing it before publication. How do you ever trust what you read on the Internet then?
Well, in short, you don't. Part of the side-effect of this self-publishing phenomenon is that you are never faced with just one source for any information. Checking facts by comparing what multiple people have to say about a topic is just one way to evaluate information that you find on the Internet. It's not a bad idea to do so when you find information anywhere. There is a reason our teachers asked us to use several sources for those pesky research papers!
You can also do a "reputation check". If the site looks like it is providing the most authoritative information on a subject, check who the author is. Google him/her. See what else they have written, what others have written about them and what their backgrounds are.
Sometimes, you just have to take what you see on the 'net with a grain of salt. Stephen Abrams, of SirsiDynix, posted a press release about the information being spread on YouTube about vaccinations. The results were that almost half of the videos that were studied contained information that contradicts the "best scientific information at large". This means that people who consulted YouTube for medical information (not the best idea in the first place, really...) were not getting the whole picture when it comes to an important medical decision.
So, how do you evaluate information you find on blogs or Wikipedia - knowing that the information is put there by a human who has biases and is not perfect? Below are 2 resources that you can read to help you evaluate blogs and other user- and individual-created content as well as Wikipedia articles.

Resources

18 comments:

Bobbi Newman said...

Robin raises a lot of good points, especially in regard to medical information. It's easy for anyone to spread misinformation online either intentionally or accidentally. We all know people who will state misinformation with conviction, these people are online too. Take time to evaluate what you read.

eyeoh said...

The Web is the ultimate "buyer beware" zone when it comes to accurate information. Consulting multiple sources helps... if you cam trust those sources! The tips shown for Wikipedia are especially helpful.

sexybeast said...

I don't like giving out stocks, car information and of course medial information at the reference desk. It is to easy to mess up. So reading the web, I scrutinize everything and look for backups. Many sites let you leave a comment so this is a small way to address what you think is misinformation.

Marion said...

Good info especially about how to evaluate wikipedia.

Here's some other similar thoughts to those presented in the articles, that you may want to consider too. All are from a reference class I took at a summer institute.

For research we have to think of online information just like print information. When was it published? Is it outdated? Who published it? Is the information presented by a non-profit or government agency or are they trying to sell something? Is it a real agency - does the "non-profit" website end in .org or a government site in .gov? Not that all real sites do, but it does lend credibility to the site. Are quotes and statistics footnoted or is a citation given to another online or print source so they can be verified? Also some sites will list at the very bottom of the page, when it was created, when it was last updated, who sponsors it etc. and you can check out their validity right there at the site. For an example see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

Robin said...

Excellent information, Marion!! This just proves how valuable blogging can be - the comments area on this blog has been as informative and thought-provoking as any of the posts!!

Bobbi Newman said...

Marion - you take amazing notes! You need to get with Robin about how to start posting those to the staff wiki!

absinthekid said...

Wikipedia is genius. Sometimes it seems like a living thing; and in a way it is: it's constantly evolving, growing, and self-correcting. Like the planet itself.

Nikki B said...

This is good to know when working in the PCC or on the Ref desk. A lot of people come into the library and get information off the web and it is not always the best place to get information. So it's good to know a good way of figuring out how to determine "right from wrong".

Francesca said...

Truth in written material.
While in graduate school my mentors would have me quote different experts/authorities responsible for certain well established research findings. On several occasions in the process of tracking down the supposed finding - I'd encounter various problems with the veracity. For example, everyone cites Howard Smith for certain research findings about speech, but when I read the whole long book - nowhere could I find the specifics of the supposed research. Or, I couldn't find a published example of Diana Baumrind's research finding (despite the fact that everyone quoted her), because, she presented the findings at a conference - which is Not really the peer-reviewed-process that Academia touts - Lastly, there was the research article that my first mentor quoted on dealing with gender differences, yet when I read the article, I thought it was proof for the opposite claim - so I showed it to my later mentor and she agreed that the results seemed to indicate Y, Not X.

Then in library school we learning about articles from professional journals - academic peer-reviewed stuff - that got recalled - (like canned food infected with botulism), libraries are supposed to stamp the article RECALLED (kinda like Denied!) or maybe even remove the pages. I'd never heard of this happening - well thats because it doesn't. Its one of those things that falls between the cracks. We also learned about medical advances that didn't get accepted until much later by the larger research community because of conflicting personalities involved. So, if these controlled bodies of information are flawed, of course other less regulated information needs to be examined even more carefully.

moonbeam said...

There is a lot of good info from everyone. Being one that doesn't always believe what I read I already always try to do checks on the info I gather. (No wonder my english teachers always liked me.)

betterlate said...

This makes you think. I am always very careful when researching sensitive information on the internet. The answers that you receive might not always be accurate!

I Don't Know How She Does It! said...

As someone who works the Reference desk, evaluation of sources is (or should be) an important component of the job. Our patrons depend on us to help them find reliable information and I take this aspect of my job rather seriously.

I am interested in the proliferation of blogs and blog info on the internet and I appreciated the article that was provided in this lesson to help evaluate blog authorship.

justme said...

The information provided is great! Alot of what I read on the web is taken with a grain of salt until shown to be true.

heather said...

the old saying holds true you can't believe everything you hear, in this case you can't believe everything you see or read on the web

leslie said...

Snopes is a good tool for testing all those pesky emails begging you to send them on so that the person will get money or health help. Unless it comes from an obvious well-known source, like the government or health agencies, then I tend to double-check the info with either print or a reliable online source. We teach the kids how to spot bad sites in our computer classes using the points brought up.

newbie said...

That is really a great reminder. I am a little reactionary and am forever reading something and "omg"ing before I verify. Especially when I was pregnant.

courtney said...

This is something that we, as library workers, really need to understand when we're helping patrons find information. I've always been aware of the caveats involved in the self-publishing world of web 2.0. Wikipedia is great for pop culture stuff, but should never be more than a starting point for true research. I had never thought about googling the author of a particular site to do a "reputation check", but I think it's a really good idea. Sometimes, those musty old books really are the best place for reliable information and we can't let ourselves forget that either (no matter how much longer it takes to find the answer).

madmusing said...

Thanks for this info. I've passed on the citations to several people who think Wikipedia is the ultimate info site. Marion's advice also is good. I've actually had people come to the refdesk for medical info who won't use NIH or NLM sites because they're government-sponsored. Carrying paranoia a bit too far...