Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Credibility Spectrum for Other Stuff

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 29, 2009

Categorized under Science, even though this is not necessarily scientific.

Let’s say you are doing a research project. What sites should you trust? Wonder no longer. I give you the Credibility Spectrum for Other Stuff, built for all your research needs.

Let’s say we are looking for a biography of George Washington. Which sources should we rely upon?

Blogs. Blogs are at the bottom of the credibility spectrum. They are easy to get, easy to use, and you can say pretty much anything. Like this post, which just barely qualifies as a biography.

Anonymous websites. Pretty much anyone can make a website. But if you find information on a website, it is because someone took the trouble to create a website and put up information about it. People can still say whatever they want, but reliability is more likely than if it’s just a blog. Look for websites that have a lot of information: the more information, the less likely it is to be written by some guy who takes pleasure in making up facts about historical figures. For biographies, you can usually find some pretty good stuff just by a Google search, such as this. It has some nice detail on George Washington’s life, but there are no citations.

Textbooks. Yes, textbooks are below Wikipedia. Want to argue that point? Fine. Do so in the comments section. But here’s the deal. Textbooks in many cases are very reliable. They are written by people who know what they’re talking about. But in some subjects (I’m looking at you, Science), they are not necessarily reliable. Depending on what age they are targeted at, they sometimes don’t go into very much depth. More importantly, though, the Texas State Board of Education was thiiiiiiiis close to teaching creationism. And that’s going to go in the textbooks. Wikipedia just won’t put up with that crap.

Wikipedia. That’s right, Wikipedia. You may love it, you may hate it, but it’s there. It is even easier to edit than a blog, so why is it so high on the spectrum? A huge difference here is that blogs are usually only run by one person, while thousands of people visit Wikipedia every day. More importantly, though, Wikipedia has a team of editors who check each page for reliability. Wikipedia has detailed –- and usually accurate — articles. So let’s check out Washington’s page. There’s well-categorized information and plenty of citations.

University websites. This means most any website that ends in “.edu”. These websites tend to have pretty good educational material. With someone like George Washington, government websites fall under this same category.

Online peer-reviewed papers and primary sources. I don’t know if there are any peer-reviewed papers about George Washington, but if there were, they would be reliable. Primary sources (that is, personal journals, official records, etc.) are reliable by definition.

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