By Tanya Makarenko, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student
Many of us rely on the internet for current news, and thankfully the internet provides just that and more. By more I mean information like bacon causes cancer, but wait it gets better because apparently bacon cures cancer too. How do you know which article is true or if either of them are? I am sure you do not have time to look through peer reviewed literature to make sure you are not killing yourself by eating bacon, or driving yourself to an early grave by not eating bacon. There is a way to save time from reading 10 pages of science and still know if the article is providing accurate information. By following the following pointers, you can rely that the information you are reading is credible.
- Does the article have an author? Who is the author?
Authors are listed in the beginning or the end of an article. If you don’t find an author, most likely this source is not credible. If there is an author listed, do some background research. If the name is hyperlinked, click on it, if not, Google the name. Try typing the author’s name into google scholar. Google scholar is a data base where you can find credible authors.
If you find the author, look at their credentials. Do they know what they are writing about? If they have little science background but are writing a paper on a complex study, be cautious, the author might not have realized they misinterpreted the information from the research articles. Is the author biased? We all know to be cautious of biased authors, but sometimes that can give you a different perspective on a subject.
- Who is the publisher?
The publisher is an organization/person that puts up the article into their journal/website. Find the publisher and what other articles are published by them. This will give you the level of expertise in the subject they are writing in. If they usually publish papers on entertainment and have one article on climate change, then do extra research to confirm the validity of their interpretations.
- What website are you on?
If you look at the URL of the website, you will determine the origin of the site. For example:
.gov – These sites are founded by the government and have accurate but not always detailed information.
.edu – These sites are founded by universities and schools and educational programs. The information can be used as a reference, but make sure the findings are consistent with other schools to eliminate inaccurate data.
.com – These sites are founded by commercial organizations. It is best to be cautious of the information presented in these sites, but not all .com websites are unreliable.
.org – These sites are founded by an organization, some of which have their own agenda.
- Is the article trying to sell you something?
As you are reading the article, take note of any product or service being advertised. The article may be trying to sell you something, be that a product, service, or idea, twisting the information they are presenting to make their product desirable/valuable. If this is the case, skip onto the next article.
- Do they cite their sources?
Some articles list their references at the end. References are the sources the author found their information from. Are there research articles backing up their ideas presented in the article? Some articles use hyperlinks, click on them. Hyperlinks are references incorporated into the article. If there are no citations/references, be cautious of the information presented in the article.
- Can you find the same information on different sites?
Is the information presented in the article consistent with other articles? For example, you were looking at a study conducted on bats, can you find another study that repeated this and reported the same results? Did you find other studies that agree with the information presented in that article and built off of it? If not, then you try another source.
These tips take time, but they do not take as long and are not as tiresome as reading a scientific study. After a few tries you will easily tell which articles are reliable and credible and not worry about the bizarre claims on bacon.