Kresge Library

Evaluating Web Sites for Use
in a Academic Paper/Publication - Answer Key

Overall, keep this rule of thumb in mind—if you have any reason to doubt the objectivity, authority, or accuracy of a web page/site, do not use it! If you can’t determine who the author of a site is, or verify that they have the proper credentials (academic background, degrees, are a respected and well-known organization in some way related to the topic, etc) then don’t use it. Do not make the mistake of assuming a site that ends with .edu or .org should be trusted! Sites on the .org and .edu domains are no more likely to be put through a review or evaluation prior to posting than a personal or .com page. Here are a few web sites that I’ve had students evaluate on their own in the past. A majority of the students I polled initially thought that all of the sites listed below were quality resources that could/should be used when writing research paper (on a related topic). In general, they were wrong. Take a look at my own evaluation of these sites:

Martin Luther King Jr. - A true historical evaluation
http://www.martinlutherking.org

Should you use this site: No.

There are several reasons you should not use this site. The first is that, given a little diligent searching, you will find links from this web site to their sponsoring organization, “Hosted by Stormfront.” Further research (following the provided link at the bottom of the MLK site) reveals that StormFront is a self-described “White Nationalist / White Pride” site created and authored by Don Black, a former member of the Klu Klux Klan. This should immediately call into question, at the minimum, the objectivity of this web site.
Does the author, Don Black, have the credentials and background necessary to speak with authority on the topic of MLK? There is no evidence given on the site that he is a student or scholar of American history in general, or MLK in particular. No evidence can be found that he holds any degrees in related subjects. Literature searches (in our library catalog, WorldCat, and our article indexes) fail to reveal any publications by the author in scholarly resources. In short, he is no more credible a source of information on this topic than anyone you might randomly stop and ask on the street.

Since the authority and objectivity of the site have already been called in to question, you need proceed no further in your evaluation. You should not use this site. Now, that does not mean that there are no accurate assertions on the site at all. You will find some interesting and possibly accurate information on this site—for instance, the assertion that MLK plagiarized can be found in many scholarly resource (as searches on Plagiari? AND "martin luther king" in some of our article databases will reveal). However, just because one bit of information on a site can be corroborated in another source does not mean that the site is, generally, accurate. At best, given the lack of objectivity and authority of the site, you would be better served to use the assertions on the site as avenues for possible research more reliable, scholarly resources. If you can find corroboration of the assertion in better sources, use those sources, not this site, in a paper you may be writing on this topic.


The Myth of Six Million
http://www.ihr.org/books/hoggan/Myth_TOC.html

Should you use this site: No.

This site is a bit more difficult to rule out than the MLK site. It seems to have credibility, because the author has (or at least, claims to have) a PhD. Also, is you go up a few levels in the site to the home page, you see it is hosted by an organization, the Institute for Historical Review, which sounds great (it’s an institute, right?). However, we must ask ourselves whom these authors are, who the institute is, and if they are objective, or have an agenda they are attempting to further.

A little research on the site itself reveals claims that “Opponents of the IHR… routinely mischaracterize the Institute as a ‘Holocaust denial’ organization” and that “Occasionally the Institute is denounced as a racist or fascist ‘hate group.’” This fact should already give the reader pause. Because, although they go on to deny the Institute is either of these things, literature published in scholarly sources asserts that they are, and questions their sources of information, misuse/abuse of facts, and their agenda. (Try running searches on “Institute for Historical Review” in some of the article databases, like Social Science Abstracts). Most certainly, this calls into question the objectivity of the site, as well as the authority of the creator and credibility of the information presented. As with the MLK site, at best, information presented on this site should be used as possible avenues for research in more credible sources, and not actually used/cited as a source.


Urban Air: Health Effects of Particulates, Sulfur Dioxide, and Ozone
http://pubs.wri.org/pubs_content_text.cfm?ContentID=1308

Should you use this site: Yes.

The main author (a “corporate” author) of this site is the World Resources Institute. On their own site, they claim to be “an independent nonprofit… working to protect the Earth and improve people's lives.” This may call the sites objectivity into question when considering environmental issues. However, backtracking a few levels into the site (http://pubs.wri.org/wri/wri/wr-98-99/index.html) reveals that this report was also sponsored/authored by the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank, both credible sources of information on a variety of topics (try searching for any one of these organizations in our article databases or WorldCat as a keyword search or as an author search), as well as the fact that this report was published (in print) by the Oxford University Press (a reputable publisher). The report also includes detailed information from reliable, external sources (like the World Health Organization and the World Bank). All this lends weight to the accuracy and credibility of this resource. This would be an acceptable site to use in an academic paper.


Aspartame Disease
http://www.medical-library.net/sites/_aspartame_disease.html

Should you use this site: No

This site poses particular problems. The report on Aspartame Disease is written by someone who claims to give lectures on this topic. The page itself is hosted on a site, The Doctor’s Medical library, managed by Ron Kennedy, M.D. All this seems to lend the article an air of credibility and authority. The page itself, however, cites no resources as evidence of the claim that there is such a thing as “aspartame disease” and relies on anecdotes to prove that such a thing exists. The lack of cited studies as evidence, or any citations at all, should give you reason to question the credibility of the site. Research in Medline and CINHAL (health science databases) shows that there are no articles authored by Nancy Markle available. The same is true of the site operator, Ron Kennedy. A search in WorldCat reveals that his one book “Thinking Person's Guide to Perfect Health” is held by only 4 WorldCat libraries (not a good sign—the more libraries that hold a book, the more likely it is to be a credible resource), and reveal no other publications by the author.

Further research into the topic (keyword searches for Aspartame AND Disease) in Medline reveals a considerable amount of research is available from respected scholarly resources that review any potential health hazards of the food additive, taking into consideration anecdotal evidence (like that supplied on this web site) and all the available studies that have been performed since its introduction, revealing the claims made on this site to be inaccurate. In addition, this information is obviously not current—the posting date is 11/20/97 (would you even use a reliable print resource that was this old?).


Conclusion:

Even when a site presents no obvious clues that it may not be accurate and authoritative, you should verify the facts and assertions presented on the site in sources of known credibility and authority.


Created on 12/12/06 by 2/7/03 by Robert Slater / Last updated on 8/25/13 by Robert Slater
Oakland University

Oakland University, Kresge Library
2200 N Squirrel Rd., Rochester, MI 48309
(248) 370 - 4426