News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Living in a virtual world is not living in an actual one

In the mid-1960s, the head of the Federal Communications Commission reviewed what television had developed into and declared it a "vast wasteland."  Now the Internet, which promised so much for human communications, is under review.  It is more than a vast wasteland.  It is a massive disaster, but with some mitigating spots.There are valuable and hugely important sites and advantages on the Internet, but they are undermined and hindered by the mass of human perversity and failure that proliferates on it.  . Blogs and their commenters are pervasive, and spread such a layer of stupidity, meanness, and mental perversity that they largely define the internet and contaminate the entire enterprise, so that the true virtues of the Internet can be used only through strenuous discernment and discrimination.   

Few people are educated and knowledgeable about language.  They do not understand the difference between language of reports, which portrays facts, and language of judgments, which portrays what is in the mind and not in actuality.  Few people distinguish between the facts that exist independently of them and the notions, errors, and perverse meanness through which they choose to perceive those facts.  

This state on the Internet has caused many teachers and professors to refuse to accept Internet sources from students in their research papers, unless they have gone through a process of evaluation.  I have pointed this out and recently did so in a very lengthy post on another venue, which produced many requests for what that process is.  There are many procedures listed on academic websites, but the one that seems most clear is the one from Virginia Tech.  (Yes, that is the university where a rampaging gunman killed 32 of his fellow students.)

Most reputable universities have posted procedures on their sites, but this one is the most concise and coherent.  That doesn't mean it isn't complex.  Here are the procedures for establishing the standards of accuracy, reliability, and credibility. 


CriteriaRationaleHow Can I Tell?

Authority

  • Is the page signed?
  • Are the author's qualifications available?
  • Does s/he have expertise in this subject?
  • Is the author associated with an educational institution or other reputable organization?
  • Does the publisher or publication have a reputation for reliability?
  • Is contact information for the author or group available on the site?
  • It's often hard to determine a web page's authorship.
  • Unlike traditional print resources, Web resources rarely have editors or fact-checkers.
  • There are no standards for information on the web which would ensure that all information there is accurate and useful.
  • People create web pages for different reasons:
    • Personal
    • Advocacy
    • Commercial/Marketing
    • Informational
  • Look at the top and bottom of the web page for clues.
  • Use the WhoIs service to determine the page's owner.
  • Is there a link to a main web site for the group/educational institution/ organization hosting this web page?
  • Look at the first part of the URL for the web page. Is it .org? .edu? .gov? .net? .com?
  • Does the author or host have a web page explaining who they are and what their mission or philosophy is?
  • Ask a Reference Librarian if information about the publisher is available
+ Now consider this web page

Coverage

  • Is the information even relevant to your topic?
  • Do you think it is useful to you?
  • Does this page have information that is not found elsewhere?
  • How in-depth is the material?
  • Web coverage often differs from print coverage.
  • Frequently it's difficult to determine the extent of coverage.
  • Sometimes web information is just-for-fun or outright silliness.
  • Read through/scan the web page and consider.
  • Ask a Reference Librarian if the information you have found can be verified elsewhere.
+ Now consider this web page

Objectivity

  • Does the information show a minimum of bias?
  • Is the page a presentation of facts and not designed to sway opinion?
  • Is the page free of advertisements or sponsored links?
  • Frequently the goals of the sponsors/authors aren't clearly stated.
  • Often the web serve as a virtual "Hyde Park Corner," a soapbox.
  • The content of the page may be influenced by the advertiser.
  • Read through/scan the web page and consider.
  • Does the author or host have a web page explaining who they are and what their mission or philosophy is?
  • See what other websites link to the site in question. Google's link searches is one method.
  • Ask a Reference Librarian if information about the author/ company/ organization is available.
+ Now consider this web page

Accuracy

  • Is the information reliable and error-free?
  • Can you find when was the last update?
  • Is there an editor or someone who verifies/checks the information?
  • Is the page free of spelling mistakes or other obvious problems?
  • Anyone can publish anything on the Web.
  • Unlike traditional print resources, Web resources rarely have editors or fact-checkers.
  • Currently, no Web standards exist to ensure accuracy.
  • Read through/scan the Web page and consider.
  • Ask a Reference Librarian if the information you have found can be verified elsewhere.
+ Now consider this web page

Currency

  • Is the page dated?
  • Can you find when was the last update?
  • Are the links current and do they point to existing pages?
  • Publication or revision dates are not always provided.
  • Pages with broken links may not be updated regularly.
  • If a date is provided, it may have various meanings. For example it may indicate when the material:
    • was first written
    • was first placed on the Web
    • was last updated
  • Read through and scan the text to see if the author attributes information/facts to a particular year. e.g. "in 1997, 35 car accidents were caused by chickens crossing the road."
  • Scan through the bibliography or list of references (be concerned if there isn't one!) and see how current each item is. e.g. Cool, Joe. (1975) "Current flying practices." Canine Aviation 32(3):23-40.
  • Look at the footer to see if the author has included a date.
+ Now consider this web page

Credits: modified with permission from Susan Beck, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources Evaluation Criteria

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