Using the Web Wisely

Always Remember to Read Critically

The greatest thing about the World Wide Web is also its greatest flaw--anyone with access to a computer can make a web page. While the Web can be a great source of up-to-date information, it can also be a source of misinformation, outdated information, and quackery. When you take information from a book published by a reputable press, you can be sure that editors and anonymous referees have helped the author avoid egregious errors of fact and interpretation. Even so, you remain responsible for evaluating the credibility of the book and the author's claims. When you take information from the Web, you are on your own--there are no editors or anonymous referees.

The following links will help you learn to navigate the Web critically:

Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources, maintained by UCLA Libraries, is an excellent guide to thinking about the reliability of electronic sources. They focus on increasing your awareness of the author/audience relationship, identifying biases and assessing reliability. I particularly like their "critical thinking" approach, which ties in well with my philosophy of education.

Six Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages, maintained by CSUF Libraries, is another excellent guide, but be critical about the criteria they advocate.  (I agree whole-heartedly with what they say about Authority, Objectivity, Accuracy, Currency, and Content/Relevancy, but whereas they suggest you include the Aesthetics of a web page in your assessment, I would caution you that Aesthetics seldom have anything to do with the quality of the information content of a web page.  Don't judge a book by its cover).

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill maintains a site that contains current links to other pages concerned with the evaluation of web sources.

Finally, I would advise you to be wary of a page with a lot of dead links (that is, links to web pages that are no longer supported. Click here to see what your browser does when you hit a dead link). Dead links arise when someone else moves their web page without leaving a forwarding address, or when they remove it for some reason.  A few dead links on a  page probably means nothing--the web is constantly changing. But a lot of dead links might indicate a page that has not been updated enough to be considered current, even if it does say that it was updated very recently.

I strongly encourage anyone using the web for research to consult all three of these sites, each of which shows how to detect misinformation in web sources:

        www.csicop.org

        www.quackwatch.com

        UCLA Hoax Detection Exercises 

 

Craig McConnell
Liberal Studies Program
California State University, Fullerton
Updated 9-12-2002

 

 

 

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