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HIST 202/204 and electives - United States History: Evaluating Sources

Understanding and Choosing Information for Your Assignments

  • Keep in mind that no one source is necessarily always reliable or always unreliable.
  • You can find reliable information in many places and formats -- the library, the web, eBooks, print books, popular and scholarly sources. 
  • Get into the habit of critically assessing each article, book, video, or other source. 

The resources on this page will help you examine information carefully. Visit UC Berkeley library's helpful guide to Weeding Out BS (Bad Sources) and learn to avoid "falling victim to BS" by considering the source, the context, and the platform where the information is being shared. 

One excellent model for evaluating information is the SIFT method at Mike Caulfield's Infodemic blog --

Stop

Investigate the Source

Find Better Coverage

Trace Claims, Quotes & Media to their original source. 

Finding out more about a website

Professional fact checkers use a number of strategies to understand where information is coming from. Try this helpful trick in search engines to find out more about websites:

Create a search that looks like this:

 website -site:web address.

Example:

acpeds.org -site:acpeds.org

The minus sign removes the website itself, and provides you with results that are ABOUT the website

In my example search, I learned that acpeds.org is a political advocacy group, not a site about pediatric medicine. Notes: remember to consider the sites that write about the site you are looking up. Look at several results. Is there a consensus? Remember that the order of results in a web search may not tell you much about the information itself.

Identifying and Stopping Misinformation

Recognizing COVID-19 Misinformation - a pop-up info lit mini-course

While this guide is meant to help people understand Information Disorder and use information literacy skills to recognize and stop the spread of COVID misinformation, information literacy can actually help stop all kinds of misinformation. Explore the mini-course and empower yourself!

Together, we can make a difference by making the world safer and saner, by identifying and refusing to share or publish inaccurate, false, or misleading information.

Is It Biased or Just Different than What I Know?

We hear the term "fake news" often, but what is more common is "confirmation bias" -- seeking information that we agree with, or that reinforces what we already know and believe. 

So how do you decide what is true? Or what is biased? Some pointers:

Consider the source (article, website, etc.) itself, not whether it matches what you know or believe.

  • Think about who wrote or published the information, and why, and how claims are supported.
  • See "What Makes a Source Good?" on this page.

Examine your own biases.  

  • Biases are viewpoints we have that are already formed in our minds or that we don't think about.
  • This is unavoidable, but we can learn to consider other viewpoints carefully.

Read articles from different perspectives and think critically about the point of view of each article or news source

  • A broader understanding helps you see where your views fit in the big picture. 
  • A more complete understanding can help you speak or write clearly about a topic.

Three helpful resources:

Filter Bubbles from AllSides.com

News Literacy from University of Louisville Library

Six Questions That Will Tell You What Media to Trust from The American Press Institute

Beware of balance bias

Beware of "balance bias"

  • One prevalent form of misinformation today is balance biasThe media often attempts to present a "balanced" view of an issue by presenting two or more sides that are nowhere near equal in terms of the evidence supporting them. 
  • When balance bias is at its worst, positions that are not supported by evidence or that are understood by researchers to be "fringe" views appear in the same article as information which has established scientific or research consensus.
  • This is confusing for readers and creates a false sense of balance between scientifically sound, evidence-based information and unsubstantiated views.

Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?

Who Funded the Research?

You've probably read news articles about companies funding research that supports their industry. If you need help determining who funded research, ask a librarian. We're here to help!

What Makes a Source Good?

What is a "good" source? There is no one right answer to this. Ask yourself:

Is it relevant to your topic? 

  • ​How will this information fit into your paper or presentation?

Is it up-to-date?

  • How up to date do you need it to be? 
  • Don't overlook an older source if the information is still valid.

Does it include references to other information or sources?

  • ​In an article, are claims supported by facts or data? (Learn about the fact checking technique lateral reading.)
  • In an academic paper, are study methods explained, and do results seem to support study conclusions?
  • Are study limitations mentioned?
  • Are any conflicts of interest or funding sources disclosed? You can usually find this at the end of a scholarly source, near the citations.
  • In an opinion piece, do facts support arguments, and do other articles or papers report the same or similar facts? 

Is it authoritative? 

  • Is the author an expert, or do they talk to and/or cite experts? (Find out more about evaluating expertise.)
  • Is the source cited elsewhere? Has the author written more about this or other topics in the field?
  • Does the source have an editor, a peer review process, and/or fact checkers?

What is its perspective?

  • How does the source's tone influence the reader? 
  • Whose perspectives are included or left out?

Why was it created?

  • Is the author or source trying to persuade? Inform? Advocate? Sell something?

Who is the intended audience of your source? Who is your intended audience?

  • Sometimes you'll need peer-reviewed, evidence-based research or academic sources.
  • Sometimes, you'll be summarizing views on a topic and might need a wide variety of popular, professional, and academic sources.

Evaluating Sources

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