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Old 25-01-2008, 06:15   #1
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Assessing the Credibility of Online Sources

Consider the source and assess it critically.

Credibility is the level of trustworthiness and authority that a reader perceives a writer has on a subject.

Since anyone with Internet access can publish on the Web, it is essential to evaluate Web sources.

Evaluating the authority and credibility (believability) of sources of information can be a complex task, so be wary of making unsupportable conclusions, based on a narrow range, of sources, or those of dubious quality.

A source who is considered credible by some people, might not be considered credible by others. Likewise, the same source might be considered credible in certain situations and not in others. .

So what kinds of factors are involved in assessing credibility? The following guidelines are intended to help you become familiar with various types of Internet resources, and help you develop the capability of recognizing what information is (more) reliable and what is not (or less).

1. Is there any evidence that the author of the Web information has some authority in the field about which she or he is providing information? What are the author's qualifications, credentials and connections to the subject?

2. With what organization or institution is the author associated? Is there a link to the sponsoring organization, a contact number and/or address or e-mail contact? A link to an association does not necessarily mean that the organization approved the content.

3. Does the author have publications in peer reviewed (scholarly and professional) publications, on the Web or in hard copy? (If an author does not have peer reviewed articles published, this does not mean that she or he does not have credible information, only that there has been no professional "test" of the author's authority on that subject.)

4. Are there clues that the author/s are biased? For example, is he/she selling or promoting a product? Is the author taking a personal stand on a social/political issue or is the author being objective ? Bias is not necessarily "bad," but the connections should be clear.

5. Is the Web information current? If there are a number of out-of-date links that do not work or old news, what does this say about the credibility of the information?

6. Does the information have a complete list of works cited, which reference credible, authoritative sources? If the information is not backed up with sources, what is the author's relationship to the subject to be able to give an "expert" opinion?

7. Can the subject you are researching be fully covered with WWW sources, or should print sources provide balance? Much scholarly research is still only available in traditional print form. It is safe to assume that if you have limited background in a topic and have a limited amount of time to do your research, you may not be able to get the most representative material on the subject. So be wary of making unsupportable conclusions based on a narrow range of sources, or those of dubious quality. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source.

8. On what kind of Web site does the information appear? The site can often give you clues about the credibility of the source.

Here are some types of Web sites:

Personal Home Pages - maintained by individuals. Individuals can post their resumes, link to favorite sites, showcase their interests and ideas. Some personal Web sites also serve as professional sites. For example, many professors publish their syllabi, course material and, in some cases, their scholarship, on their personal Web pages. Entrepreneurs often advertise their services on "home" pages.

Special interest sites - maintained by non-profit organizations or activists dealing with special issues, such as environmental concerns. Special interest sites are, by their nature, biased. When using such sources, your readers should be aware of the source's special interest.

Professional sites - maintained by institutions/organizations, sometimes by individuals. They can include research, reference sources, fact sheets. Many institutions provide such services to the public.

News and Journalistic sites (E-zines) - which include national, international news, online newspapers, magazines, and "homegrown" Web publications. Anyone can publish his or her own "news," on the Web. What do you know about, or what can you find out about, the reputation of the periodical? Is it an electronic version of a credible print publication?

Commercial sites - Although many legitimate businesses have Websites, some are not legitimate. Companies, with good and bad reputations, are in the business of making money and acquiring and keeping customers. They are naturally biased in favor of their own products, so watch out for inflated claims for performance and quality. Companies will not showcase their competitors' products. Many entrepreneurs use "rented" Web space to create their own Web sites to sell their services or products - buyer beware!
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Old 25-01-2008, 07:40   #2
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Most everything we know is not first hand knowledge... even among the most experienced and out there. We learning by reading and watching TV , images and so forth.

Credentials of the reporter are one way of lending weight to the report, but no one is objective... are they?
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Old 25-01-2008, 07:45   #3
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As usual, an excellent analysis Gord. Of course, the 'credibility' of the source takes you only so far - as in the old saying, 'honest men can honestly disagree'. In so many areas concerning sailing/yacht design/equipment etc., there are no absolutes. And while anecdotal analyis is appropriately denigrated in the scientific community, it is IMO of particular value in forums such as this: I am always interested in hearing the experiences of others regarding locations, boats, sailing techniques and equipment.

Further, while the lack of 'sourcing' for opinions expressed on this site may be indicative of a lack of support in the literature, it may also simply indicate the lack of time to dig up and cite sources. For example, I recently put up a post opining that there are still real-world benefits to front overhang, even though plumb bows are currently in vogue. I gave reasons for the opinion, but did not bother (and frankly had no time) to cite sources. If push came to shove I could have dug up several sources/references including Robert Perry in an article (and in a book, 'The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat', as I recall).

Just as the skipper of a vessel should never follow the lead of other boats while navigating or choosing to, or not to embark on a voyage, it is ultimately solely our own responsibility to make decisions concerning all critical issues regarding the use, maintenance and ports of call for vessels under our command. Real insights can even come from the mouths of babes, and it is often an error to summarily dismiss an opinion or information, simply because there does not appear to be backing from experts in the field.

Brad
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Old 25-01-2008, 14:25   #4
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One thing I might add is to ask how significant the topic is in the first place. The Admiral just put in a water heater at our country place and in the home office are several of studies regarding water heater technology. A simple analysis of price, size, warranty and efficiency was all that is needed. The research entertained her and frankly that was valuable. It is her hobby.

I think too often we, as recreational boaters, get too serious about finding the perfect equipment and then over research the issue. The anchor threads come to mind. (The anchor threads are contain great examples of every issue mentioned above!)

Also linked to item 7 is the broader idea of generalizability. Simply because the subject relates to your area of interest does not mean that enough of the conditions relate to the specific problem being studied to make the website useful. For example just because Columbus careened his boats does not mean that it is a good idea with a modern fin keeled fiberglass cruiser.
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Old 26-01-2008, 08:51   #5
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Nice compilation Gord.

I stand by the old adage:

Believe none of what you hear, half of what you read and all that you see - of course now with photoshop and computer enhancing, the all that you see part is now suspect.
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Old 26-01-2008, 09:05   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by defjef View Post
Most everything we know is not first hand knowledge... even among the most experienced and out there. We learning by reading and watching TV , images and so forth.

Credentials of the reporter are one way of lending weight to the report, but no one is objective... are they?
It is human nature to want to promote ones own philosophies and beliefs. I do not believe that any source of information is 100% objective. We see this in how the same news story is reported in the press. The Wall Street Journal will have a different take on an event than the New York Times for example. The only thing we can believe with 100% certainty is that there is no unbiased source of information...especially news.
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Old 27-01-2008, 19:56   #7
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Originally Posted by Benny View Post
Nice compilation Gord.

I stand by the old adage:

Believe none of what you hear, half of what you read and all that you see - of course now with photoshop and computer enhancing, the all that you see part is now suspect.

I have participated in several commercial aviation accident investigations over the years. The eyewitness accounts are the most unreliable and conflicting evidence in any investigation.

Everyone sees things differently and everyone has bias.

CVR, FDR and physical evidence are the keys to a successful investigation.

(PS - Photoshop is in the "reading" category, ain't it?)
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Old 27-01-2008, 20:35   #8
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Ex-Calif - Gord's submission was focused on the credibility of internet sources and not in person investigations. My response was based on his focus. 'Read' is print and 'See' is images - many of which are now altered by photoshop or other computer programs - so if an image on the intwernet was shown - say of a product - a pasta dish for instance - it quite possibly may contain all the ingredients you 'see' but not as well presented as the photoshopped image and therefor your decision to 'believe' what you see may be based on an enhanced image and you may buy it and be disappointed afterward.

I agree that eyewitness accounts are not completely reliable in a fact based investigation, however, the eye witness still 'believes' what they saw and in my statement, it is in the first person and not as a statement of empirical evidence. Therefor, it will only be of value to the eye witness in judging the credibility of what was seen. Attempting to pass off my interpretation of what actually occured when I witnessed an event as completely objective fact would be open to conjecture and could be refuted by additional input from other sources - people, cameras, physical evidence examined after the fact etc. I believe that Gord was attempting to provide a framework and set of guidelines to do as thorough an investigation regarding internet sources as possible before committing yourself to either believing those 'facts' or relating them to others as fact. I believe he has done this with the good intentions to help we forum members avoid dissemination of incorrect or misleading information that gets posted on these threads as well as personal edification while browsing the web for our own purposes.
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Old 27-01-2008, 21:13   #9
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Good points but there are always exceptions and there is a huge one here - one has to look no further than the debate on climate change (not the debate posed here) to understand even supposedly credible people say inconceivable things for various reasons unrelated to their credentials, most notably money or agenda.

Always be skeptical of anyone claiming to be an expert
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Old 27-01-2008, 22:30   #10
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Definition of an expert:
Ex is a has been and a spert is a drip under pressure.
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Old 28-01-2008, 00:00   #11
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Benny - I was yanking chain.

Anything printed or on-line is suspect to alteration and photoshop.

I'll stick by the only adage that works for me: "Consider the Source"

Although I like Wheels' definietion of an ex-spert.
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Old 28-01-2008, 07:05   #12
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lol - I agree on the definition however, should we consider the 'credibility' of Wheels as the ex-spert source of that definition?
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