Currency: How recently was this information published or posted? Can you locate a publication date? Has it been revised or updated? Are the links on the page functional?
Relevance: Does the information relate to your topic? Who is the intended audience? Is the information at the appropriate level? Have you looked at a variety of sources?
Authority: Who wrote the information? What are their credentials? Are they an expert of knowledgeable in their field? If you cannot locate the author clearly stated, be wary. When nobody wants to sign their name to it, it likely is nothing to be proud of.
Accuracy: Is the information supported by evidence? Has the information been reviewed? Does the language seem unbiased and objective?
Purpose: Why was it written? To sell something? To sway opinion? Is the information fact or opinion? Is the point of view impartial? Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
If you are not sure if it is true, don’t share it!
Explicit bias are beliefs that your consciously and purposely hold abut a group or person.
Implicit biases are beliefs that subconsciously influence your opinions and actions. Everyone has implicit bias, but being self-aware can help support your objectivity.
Lastly, and most dangerous, is confirmation bias, which is when you inherently seek or and interpret information in way that affirm the beliefs and ideas that you already hold.
- How many posts has the user made?
- How long has the account been active?
Some accounts will claim to be renowned sources, such as news sites BBC and Pew Research Center, but they will only have a few posts in their history; this is a sign that they are imposter accounts.
These accounts will often reuse an image from a previous event in order to deceive people. You can check to see if an image has been used before on TinEye.
Be sure to keep an eye out for advertised posts.
- Facebook marks advertised posts with a “sponsored” symbol.
- Twitter will mark the tweets with “promoted” or “promoted tweet”.
All industries suffer from funding bias, where research funded by an outside source will be more likely to support the cause of that source, likely a corporation.
Check the acknowledgement section of a report to discern its funding. Unfortunately, only government funding is required to be shared by law, so there is no sure way to identify all funding sources. For doctors, any direct payments received from companies are posted at this Open Payments Data website.
Also, beware sensational news articles that reference scholarly articles: check the research yourself. News outlets will often dramatize the conclusions of a study in order to draw reader’s attention.
Unfortunately, skewed statistics are rarely so cut and dry. But a common way that researchers try to hide this information is by not disclosing any information about their data collection methods or their control group.
Another term you will hear a lot is statistical significance. Statistical significance, while promising for research, is not the center of scientific fact. Good science is composed of many, many studies, confirming the same results with statistical significance numerous times.
Often, studies will supply readers with charts and graphs to help them understand the data. Double check to make sure the numbers match what the image is trying to depict. Common tactics to mislead involve: changing the x-axis to a number other than zero, stretching out the intervals of the y-axis, or graphing only a few data points from the entire study.
Some articles come from other sources, such as conferences. If an article says the research was presented at a convention or conference, then it is possible it was not subject to peer review.
In order to avoid these, depend upon the journals selected by the library, which have undergone review by professionals. When using databases, look for the checkbox option to retrieve “peer reviewed” results only.