Surely we are all past the "Everything on the Internet is True" meme. (For a fun take, Google "State Farm commercial boyfriend French model".) Clearly, everything on the internet is not true. In fact, I read on the internet that half the things you read on the internet aren't true.
Especially in today's world of "search engine optimization", "content marketing", and "click bait", not to mention "fake news" and state sponsored deliberate misinformation campaigns, we should realize that we must be very careful in what we trust.
Librarians at the Meriam Library at Cal State University at Chico have developed (I'm not kidding) the "CRAAP Test" for evaluating sources. The acronym stands for Currency, Relevancy, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.
To evaluate Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose, they suggest the following questions:
Authority: The source of the information.
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
- Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
- Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
- Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
Purpose: The reason the information exists.
- What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
In some cases, we are able to "outsource" some of this validation work to others. In the case, for example, of peer reviewed articles in scientific journals, we can rely on the editors and peer reviewers to have verified the credentials of the authors and the rigor of the work. Similarly, with technical publications from mainstream publishing houses, we can can rely on the editors and proofreaders to have verified the qualifications of the authors and the spelling, grammar and consistency of the manuscript.
But what about the "wild west" of contributed information on a computer forum? What can we trust? Every business that has a web site is creating "content" designed in one way or another to sell their products or services. For example, most of the posts on the ASQ LinkedIn group are from individuals trying to promote their products or services. (And yes, I have a business web site on which I post content for these purposes.)
Google was founded based on an algorithm called "PageRank" that ranks the "importance" of web sites based on the number and "quality" of links to the site from other sites. This is somewhat analogous to the ranking of scientific papers based on the number of times the paper has been cited by other papers. Yet Google also allows advertisers to bid for favorable placement of their ads in search results.
Wikipedia is a very useful tool for research which depends on individuals having unrestricted access to edit any article. By and large, it functions well, but there have been a number of well-publicized cases of malicious editing of pages by people with an agenda.
Many forum or bulletin board Question and Answer sites (such as myASQ aspires to be) have developed different algorithms by which individual "responders" (people who answer posted questions) are rated, either by the questioners, by other readers or responders,, or by the frequency of their activity.
While ASQ members, which most registered myASQ participants are presumed to be, are generally well intentioned, they are not necessarily experts in every topic discussed. And there are periodic problems as when individuals (or bots) create accounts with the intention of posting advertising content. This problem can only be anticipated to get worse.
So how do we facilitate the exchange of "authoritative" and "accurate" information on myASQ?
Can some information be "certified" as having been through peer review or some similar editorial process? (This will require controls on who can post information in certain areas.)
Can the "leaderboard" be used to highlight individuals who have a reputation for legitimate "thought leadership" rather than counting numbers of friend requests and posts welcoming new members?