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Public Health: Evaluating Sources / Fake News

Evaluating Sources

Criteria to consider when determining the reliability or credibility of any source:

  1. Currency: When was the information published or last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?
  2. Relevance: Is this the type of information you need (ex. a research study or scholarly article)? Is it related to your topic? Is it detailed enough to help you answer questions on your topic?
  3. Authority: Who is the author or creator of the information (can be an individual or an organization)? Are they an expert on your topic? Has the source been peer reviewed? Who is the publisher? Are they reputable?
  4. Accuracy: Is the information true? What information does the author cite or refer to?  Is this a research study with methods you can follow? Can you find this information anywhere else? Can you find evidence to back it up from another resource? Are studies mentioned but not cited (this would be something to check on)? Can you locate those studies?
  5. Purpose/perspective: What is the purpose of the information? Was it written to sell something or to convince you of something? Is this fact or opinion based? Is it unfairly biased?

[Borrowed from the Evaluate Sources guide from the University of Texas Libraries.]

Look also at the Choosing Quality Resources guide from the American University Library that explains how to apply criteria of Authority, Accuracy, Currency, Objectivity, and Relevance when evaluating research sources.

Evaluating Websites

The criteria for evaluating websites very similar to the criteria for evaluating sources. Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating a website's reputation and credibility. You'll see that some are very similar to the currency, relevance, and other criteria in the box above:

  • Authority  –   Who is the author/publisher?  Information on the internet with a listed author is one indication of a credible site. The fact that the author or organization is willing to stand behind the information presented (and in some cases, include his or her contact information) is a good indication that the information is reliable. 
  • Objectivity – Are there biases? Is there a commercial or for-profit interest?
  • Currency – The date of any research information is important, including information found on the Internet. By including a date, the website allows readers to make decisions about whether that information is recent enough for their purposes. 
  • Sources Cited?– Credible websites, just like books and scholarly articles, should cite the source of the information presented. 
  • What about Domain? – Some domains such as .com, .org, and .net can be purchased and used by any individual. However, the domain .edu is reserved for colleges and universities, while .gov denotes a government website. These two are usually credible sources for information. Be careful with the domain .org, because .org is usually used by non-profit organizations which may have an agenda of persuasion rather than education. However, this doesn't always mean the information isn't credible. 
  • How is the Site Designed? – This can be very subjective, but a well-designed site can be an indication of more reliable information. Good design helps make information more easily accessible. 
  • What about Writing Style? – Poor spelling and grammar are an indication that the site may not be credible. In an effort to make the information presented easy to understand, credible sites watch writing style closely. 

Some websites may not meet all these criteria. When in doubt check the information with other sources that you know are reliable. Think critically,

[Adapted from How Can I tell if a Website is Credible? from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.]

Quick Guide to Fake News

Fake News, Misinformation, Alternative Facts, Post-Truth...

Whatever you call it, believing false information and then citing from inaccurate sources is a problem. For more tips and suggestions, check out SU library's guide about Fake News & Critical Thinking.

How to spot fake news

[Retrieved from Pace University Library Research Guide.]

A Word About Search Engines

Search engine creators, like Google, are businesses whose purpose is to turn a profit, not help you find information. Using several different search engines when seeking information is good practice, don't become loyal to just one. In addition, consider using search engines that are uncensored and anonymous, such as, DuckDuckGo or GIBIRU.

Thinking Critically