Then, look at this evaluation7 of these sites.
Poor verification of web information led the Michigan
Studies Weekly, a publication distributed to 3rd and 4th
graders across the state, to claim in the 2002, week 15
issue that there are whales in Lake Michigan! The journalist
had based her entire article on a single web site she had
found (originally at: http://www.geocities.com/lakemichiganwhales) which is no longer available. However, there is a web archive of the Lake Michigan Whale Watching website
. You can see that the author had not done research to verify her facts.
Don’t be fooled, check your sources for reliability. Note: Michigan
Studies Weekly later had to issue a retraction of the whale
some questions to ask yourself when you are reviewing any
potential source of information, be it a print publication,
internet site, personal interview or whatever:
1. Accuracy - Are statements on the web site accurate?
This can be a little difficult to determine if you are
only relying on a single web site for your information.
That is why it is important to use multiple sources in
your research, and ensure that some of them are from respected
publication or databases. If you have data you’ve
obtained from a reliable publication and it is not in agreement
with the web site (or other questionable resource) you
are using, you can bet the web resource is the less accurate
(or reliable or believable) of the two.
2. Authority - From where does the web site originate?
When evaluating a web site, this is the most important
criteria. Unfortunately, determining a sites authority
can often prove the most difficult step in evaluating a
web site. In general, you'll want to make sure the web
page has an author cited with responsibility for writing
the article/page and determine if the author is an authority
on the topic. You'll also need to determine if the site
the page is hosted on is credible. If it is just a personal
web page, you should be dubious as to the veracity and
usefulness of its content. If it's a single page
in a larger site that you have determined to be a credible
source for information on a topic (for instance, a page
about emphysema located somewhere in the web site of the
American Lung Association) then its location on a credible
site lends the particular page some authority. This is
not as easy as it may sound. Try to look for a sponsor
or host of the site, and then look in a resource like the “Encyclopedia
of Associations” (kept at the reference desk) to
make sure that the association is real (after all, anybody
can invent an impressive sounding name) and that the URL
of the web site you are at actually matches the URL listed
for that organization in the Encyclopedia of Associations.
Again, anyone can steal the images, headers, etc from a
real web site, post it on their own, and make it look like
the real thing (like the current eBay scams that are doing
3. Objectivity - Are issues presented objectively?
If an issue is controversial, how many sides are presented?
If a web page is obviously presenting a persuasive argument,
and not treating the issue objectively, then this should
give you pause. For instance, if you were researching
the effects of various drugs on humans, the NORML1 web
facts are likely to be considerably incongruent with
those of the US
Office of National Drug Control Policy2.
sides are presenting their information in an attempt
to convince you of something, so the facts and arguments
on either site must be carefully evaluated and verified.
4. Currency - When was the web site last updated?
Does the site contain outdated information (if applicable
to your area of study)? Is there some information indicating
when the web page was first published? Is there, likewise,
an indication of when it was last edited/updated? One
of the great strengths of the web as a distribution medium
over print resources is the speed with which information
can be created and distributed. Whereas a print article
may languish for months in a review process, a web page
can be posted as soon as it has been completely written,
or even put up incrementally as the author finishes bits!
5. Coverage - Is the issue or topic covered completely?
Are there gaps?
Does the author seem to have a grasp of the overall issue
s/he is writing about? Are there glaring omissions in the
web page that may make you reconsider hurdle #2, Authority
or #3, Objectivity?
A good rule of thumb is, after considering the five questions
above, when in doubt, don't use it. A reference librarian
can usually help you locate more credible information in
less time than it takes to verify the usefulness of a web
It can seem easier to find a web page on a topic than to
find a printed article or at first glance. Most of you
are familiar with your favorite search engine, and you
may find its interface less cluttered, the results easier
to navigate, and enjoy results free of field-specific
jargon when compared to the resources the library web page
provides. However, the time you "save" by using
the internet to identify resources is generally going to
be more than counter-balanced by the time it takes to evaluate
the credibility of a web page.
7. Answer key for this exercise
Oakland University, Kresge Library
2200 N Squirrel Rd., Rochester, MI 48309
(248) 370 - 4426