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janbb's avatar

When providing a citation in an argument, what do you consider a credible source?

Asked by janbb (54038points) April 9th, 2010

In this day and age, when newspapers and the “mainstream media” are being supplanted by slanted internet blogs and doctored you-tube videos, what do you trust as a reliable resource? As a librarian, I am concerned with teaching critical thinking skills and “information literacy”, yet I see examples daily, both here and elsewhere, of people decrying valid scientific research or extolling undocumented garbage in support of their position. How do you evaluate what you read? What guidelines do you follow before claiming something is fact?


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48 Answers

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

If it’s not from a peer-reviewed academic journal, I probably won’t trust it as a fact.

Qingu's avatar

The New York Times (non-opinion).

Scientific magazines such as Science and Nature.

Recent, scholarly textbooks.

Reference material/encyclopedia dedicated to a particular subject.

Multiple sources are always better.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Academic journals, non-fiction books (though those can be biased in one direction or another), certain well-established websites (like, for example), publications put out by well-known organizations like the Guttmacher Institute, etc.

Qingu's avatar

That said, I really have no problem with citing Wikipedia for non-controversial stuff if I’m just arguing on the Internet or something.

dpworkin's avatar

Anything that has appeared in a high-ranked peer-reviewed journal.

davidbetterman's avatar

Scientologists, Astrologers, New Age healers…and the list goes on….

Snarp's avatar

I don’t take much at face value. There are some sources that I trust on some matters, to some extent because of a good record, but I like to look into pretty much everything at least enough to see if it passes the stink test.

Snarp's avatar

@davidbetterman Those are the credible ones?

Blackberry's avatar

I totally forgot about peer-reviewed journals…..What a great source.

janbb's avatar

I agree with peer-reviewed journals for scientific or scholarly citations. What sources do you use for news items or cultural matters? What would you trust? How do you filter out the shit on a shingle?

wundayatta's avatar

Whatever passes the smell test.

janbb's avatar

@wundayatta So what is your smell test?

davidbetterman's avatar

@Snarp Of course I left out TV news journalists and PR agents…

Qingu's avatar

@janbb, there isn’t any sort of smoking gun. What I’d recommend is avoiding sources like CNN and MSNBC (and their websites). They’re not terrible, but their journalism is heavily skewed towards sensationalism because of course it makes them more money. The New York Times is by no means a perfect source, but there are no perfect sources and as far as I know it has probably the highest standards for fact checking and editorial credibility of any major newspaper or organization.

janbb's avatar

The smoking guns I am thinking of were an unattributed you-tube video used as support for a racism claim and a purported document with an author but no source cut and pasted from the internet spewing some anti-Muslim nonsense. Thsoe guns smoked pretty fiercely to me.

wundayatta's avatar

Does it fit in with everything else I know, or does it contradict what I know without providing any supporting evidence.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Are you raising this question because of the recent brouhaha between two respected jellies who went at each other in another thread regarding credibility of ‘a scientific study’?

Because I go along with (parts of) both sides of that argument:
1. On the one hand, it doesn’t matter who or what the source is—if the study states something ‘interesting’ then it’s probably worth further study unless the claims are backed by nothing more than dreams, suppositions and bombast. So if a blogger with a history of psychotic breaks with reality made the claim that Martians were living in his back yard ‘and I can prove it’ he says then it’s worth a look. On the other hand, if he says that Vulcan told him that Martians were living in his back yard, then that’s totally dismissable.

2. But on the other hand (and sometimes it’s good that we only have two hands), just because a famous scientist with a string of credentials as long as your arm says that there are Martians living in his back yard, including photos and descriptions of their architecture, a signed copy of their constitution and a proclamation of a desire for galactic peace from their president… then that is also “worthy of further study”.

I’m not accepting or rejecting verifiable claims without verification or the legwork to deny the same, no matter the source of the claim.

So in the other thread:
1. It’s ‘interesting’ to see claims made about an experimental result, and a potential cause of obesity.

2. The claim has to be verified by duplication of the experiment and results by someone else that I respect before I start to march down the road in support of the idea.

Qingu's avatar

Heh, yes, I don’t know why anyone would think those counted as “sources”

A good source I’ve found for current political events is

Snarp's avatar

@Qingu – The Times did employ Judith Miller though.

Snarp's avatar

@Qingu Politifact is from one of my most trusted mainstream new sources and one of the last independent papers doing its own investigative journalism. Long live the St. Pete Times.

janbb's avatar

@CyanoticWasp That and some other recent discussions.

janbb's avatar

@Snarp I know and love the St. Pete Times. Interestingly enough, they are funded by a foundation, not through advertising or subscriptions.

Snarp's avatar

@janbb I suppose there’s a hierarchy of both claims and sources, and they have to be lined up to make a judgment. So extreme claims have to be backed up by multiple quality news sources or peer reviewed journals on one end, and mundane statements can go nearly unsubstantiated.

On the other end, extreme claims like those you mention, lined up with worthless sources, should be dismissed out of hand.

Unfortunately that all assumes that one can distinguish a mundane statement from an extreme claim, an ability that is sometimes more lacking than the ability to determine a reliable source.

ucme's avatar

Well I very rarely argue, pointless exercise in futility, but on the rare occasions I do I use an accurate indisputable source wherever possible.

CaptainHarley's avatar

As far as commentators go, I don’t trust ANY of them! They have confused information with entertainment and that automatically disqualifies them in my opinion. As far as magazines, I trust Scientific American more than most, and read as many others as I can get my hands on ( Particularly when the subject is politics ), so that I can form a balanced judgement in my own mind. As far as TV and cable go, I suppose I trust CNN more than most, but I try not to fill my mind with too much from those media; too much reliance on “sound bites,” and too many axes to grind.

Fenris's avatar

Can’t really trust anyone. Everyone’s got plans and goals, and that makes for an agenda, and everyone’s got an opinion and beliefs, which make for bias. What I do to educate myself is to find 19 or 20 experts on the subject and get a mountain of their work and filter through it for patterns of similarity, then pull up enough examples of usage of the facts in the real world, filter for similarities, and go with that. The only way to know something as truth is to become an expert of the subject; and since we don’t have time to become experts on everything, we have to trust specialists – and thus is the weakness in our world bred of hyper-specialization.

Snarp's avatar

@Fenris When do you sleep?

Qingu's avatar

Experts can also be wrong, or miss a broader context.

rahm_sahriv's avatar

Nothing online. Especially sites such as Wikipedia. I laughed when my cousin was given a failing grade because he wrote a report that he used Wikipedia exclusively for. Score one for the teachers.

kevbo's avatar

@janbb, I would think that the multiplicity of biased sources available would provide ample material for teaching critical thinking and media literacy. It seems like this would be a much easier job now than back when people mostly believed in the accuracy of mainstream journalism.

Ultimately, students will have to make up their own minds on what they trust as valid or accurate. I would think the value you bring to them is the opportunity to recognize bias both in sources and in themselves, as well as how to “triangulate” truth and an appropriate response.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Excellent points! : )

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu The Times is plenty biased. You just don’t notice.

Encyclopedias, books, and peer-reviewed content is all fairly reliable.
Though as we learned in Climategate, there are those who will try to manipulate the peer revision process.

Snarp's avatar

Part of the problem, of course, is the lack of a quality education in the first place. If you don’t understand basic principles of science and how scientific research is conducted, then you can’t begin to critically evaluate scientific information. So if your parents educated you with a Christian home schooling program and you think that radioisotope dating is a lie and the fossil record is shoddy, for example, you are in no position to evaluate any scientific information you come across. That can easily be extended to other subject areas as well.

Snarp's avatar

@Nullo Books? Just books?

Qingu's avatar

The fact that you are calling it “Climategate” means that you yourself are biased and not interested in the facts of the matter

Nullo's avatar

@Snarp More or less. I did a paper for Medieval History that used books like ”De Re Metallica,” and a book about the development of naval artillery.

@Qingu I’m interested in the facts of the matter, not some politically-motivated scientist trying to position an agenda as fact. I followed the business, and judging by the way it crumbled, there wasn’t much actual support. And then the guy running the CRU went and said that they don’t really know anything. I’ll see if I can’t find you that article.

Qingu's avatar

I’m waiting with bated breath the article showing that consensus on global warming “crumbled” and that climate scientists “don’t really know anything.”

This will no doubt be a teachable moment on the importance of good sources.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu The first is not a single article, but rather an analysis of the aggregate of all of the articles. The second I posted in response to one of Mattbrowne’s posts; since he’s written a freakin’ lot of them, it’s gonna take some time. And I’ve got to leave for work now. I’ll keep this threat handy, though. When I find it, I’ll post it here.

lloydbird's avatar

Follow the money.
Then avoid the money.

Qingu's avatar

Are you also going to post all the articles from which you’ve “aggregated” your “analysis”? Can’t wait to see those, too.

Berserker's avatar

I’m often told that 99% of online blogs and articles are biased bullshit, opinions described through facts and faulty evidence that nobody’s gonna bother checking anyways.
That in itself may be bs too though. I don’t know who to trust, usually I hope for sources that describe and relay something, and doesn’t include words like horrific or wonderful haha.

I guess you evaluate a whole lot of it, which I usually don’t do, so at the very least I like to check out differing sources for the same subject.

So my guidelines I guess, are; I don’t want no personal opinion with the article or news broadcast or whatever.

Gory pictures.

You may think that’s a joke, but it’s not; it’s an example…someone who wants to present real fact and evidence might include pictures…I’d be much more apt to trust something if it has for primary concern to show shit like it is, rather than dillude itself on account of reputation or good figure. (Comparing European news channels to American ones, for example.)

So I know we weren’t tlaking about the news, but in this respect, it’s the best approach I can think of. Most of my reading is done with good ol fashioned books, anyway.
Not that books are any less bs than online stuff though.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu I do not make a habit of collecting newspaper clippings, either paper or digital. The links below only made it to Fluther the first time because they were still pretty recent when I needed them. Suffice it to say that I read all of the articles that followed the Climategate event, and formulated my opinion from them.

Here are the articles that I directed mattbrowne to.

Qingu's avatar

1. Cites two scientists skeptical of data pointing to warming weather; quotes several scientists who refute their interpretation.

2. Cites one professor.

3. Same as above.

4. And again, same as above.

So here we have 4 sources, three of which are derivative of the same story. All of them are popular media sources (as opposed to scientific, peer-reviewed sources relevant to the field in question). The sources deal with three individual scientists, none of whom unequivacally say climate change is false, all of whom’s claims are based on their own interpretations of their own narrow strands of data—out of the hundreds of scientists and the consensus view of the scientific community based on many different strands of data.

Can you tell us what’s wrong with this picture, Nullo?

janbb's avatar

@Qingu Good use of critical thinking skills! You get an “A”.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

On the other hand, @janbb “consensus” in science = “fail”.

Qingu's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, and why do you think that?

Fenris's avatar

@Snarp : I sleep? That’s news to me.

Nullo's avatar

What’s wrong is that you think that we’re talking about science here, when we are actually dealing with misconduct.

Given the nature of the issue, I do not expect that anyone has published anything in the journals; what’s there to say, beyond, “Golly, maybe we shouldn’t have done that?” And I do not expect to ever see a paper talking about paper-suppression (what set off this conversation) in one. That is definitely the realm of the media.
Anyway, you asked me for the articles, and then ridiculed me for not presenting you with scientific papers? For shame!

I don’t recall ever saying that any of them out-and-out claimed that global warming was false. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect it of them; it is a rare thing for a person to make a full 180 when it comes to dogma.
You throw in the bit about the hyperspecialization, too. I will agree that the narrowly-focused make for poor spokesmen. But doesn’t this work both ways? If we can’t trust the narrowly-focused for a correct assessment of the present situation, then we oughtn’t have trusted them when they started this business in the first place.

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