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Exaluating Information

One of the most important tasks in doing research is evaluating the material you find. All information is not created equal, and your objective is to find the best available information for your research needs. Unfortunately most times the easiest thing to find is not always the best information available. 

This guide will help you think about what is necessary to do to evaluate information. You always need to keep in mind what your information needs are, and what the objective of the assignment is. 

How you evaluate an item will depend on the assignment you need to do. For example: If you were writing a paper on the medical treatment options for cancer for an Advanced Biology course, you would not be looking for opinion pieces, you would be looking for empirical research studies. But if your assignment for an  Interpersonal Communications course where you are looking at peer communication around the medical options for cancer treatment, you may be looking at all sorts of opinion pieces, blogs and other more casual content.  

  If you'd like more assistance with evaluating information, please feel free to contact any one of the Reference Librarians and we will be happy to assist you.

How do I know?

Check your source for some of these signs:

Misleading Titles

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. Chocolate, bacon and Red Wine are not likely to be as good for you as the multitude of studies are claiming.

Inflating Benefits or Risks

A widely advertised new drug demonstrated FOUR TIMES  the weight loss of Placebo. What they don't say is that in a 58 week study the control group lost 1.5 lib, and the treatment group lost 6lbs. Hardly a dramatic result, 

Confusing correlation with causation

Many things go together but are not causative. Ice Cream sales and murders are correlated, but ice cream does not cause murder. 

For a delightful exploration of this see the website http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

 

Things to Think About

When looking foraccurate information you want to thnk about several things:

What is the purpose of this article?

  • Is it meant to entertain me?
  • Is it meant to inform me?
  • Is it meant to inspire me to take action?

How does the article make me feel?

  • Do I feel Happy?
  • Do I feel Angry?
  • Do I feel Frightened?

Where does the information come from?

  • Is it a publication dedicated to information, entertainment, public policy, politics, or health?
  • Who is the author? Is it a journalist, an expert in the field, a scientist, a celebrity, a politician or a commentator?
  • Are there citations or footnotes, or indication in the text of where the information comes from.

Follow the money

  • Think about the financial implications of the information. 

Critically Evaluating the Evidence

Choosing Sources

Research Pyramid

Evidence Pyramid

Peer Review is not Perfect

Just because something is in a Journal or comes from a database, does not automatically means it is perfect.  You still have to question everything. 

Follow the money.

Examine if the article for a disclosure statement. If the article was funded by industry there is a high likelihood that it will support the industry viewpoint. For example the preponderance of evidence suggests that sugar sweetened beverages contribute to the increase in obesity, but research funded by beverage companies and their front groups argue that there is insufficient evidence to draw a link, and that many things contribute to obesity. 

 

Heather Brodie Perry

Heather Perry's picture
Heather Perry
Contact:
Library 110
508-565-1538
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