Edgar Allen Poe said, “Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.” Take away your personal experiences or biases. Then assume most of what you read or see is not true. What would Poe’s quote be today?
In the old days, not so long ago, you actually had to go to this place called a library to read books to get information. Books took not only effort to write, but significant amounts of money to get published – and only if deemed worthy by publishers or academia. Now you type whatever into Google or Bing to learn instantly. Also, anyone can touch the world with social media for free or publish a book on a shoestring budget.
Determining Whether a Source is Authoritative
You can’t find much about this subject on the web. There is a little known book from 1987 called The Research Paper: A Common-Sense Approach. In current day, Google measures authority by the sites with the most advertising or inbound links. The reality is probably closer to 1987 thought:
- Prefer acknowledged authorities to self-proclaimed ones.
- Prefer an authority working within his or her field of expertise to one who is reporting conclusions about another subject.
- Prefer first-hand accounts over those from sources who were separated by time or space from the events reported.
- Prefer unbiased and disinterested sources over those who can reasonably be suspected of having a motive for influencing the way others see the subject under investigation.
- Prefer public records or references to private documents in questionable cases.
- Prefer accounts that are specific and complete to those that are vague and evasive.
- Prefer evidence that is credible on its own terms to that which is internally inconsistent or demonstrably false.
- In general, prefer a recently published report to an older one.
- In general, prefer works by standard publishers to those of unknown or “vanity” presses.
- In general, prefer authors who themselves follow standard report/writing conventions.
- In general, prefer authorities not sponsored by advertising.
- When possible, prefer an authority known to your audience to one that is unknown.
This post was inspired by the pervasive amount of drivel on the web from major publishers promoting business and technology product opinions, using authors with only gaming or music experience and no education. On the flip side, we all should examine this list when we create, share, or see content on the web.