Google’s web-page-ranking system, PageRank, tends to give priority to better respected and trusted information. Well-respected sites link to other well-respected sites. This linking boosts the PageRank of high-quality sites. Consequently, more accurate pages are typically listed before sites that include unreliable and erroneous material. (The various browser toolbars can show you the PageRank of the page you’re currently browsing.) Nevertheless, evaluate carefully whatever you find on the web since anyone can
- Create pages
- Exchange ideas
- Copy, falsify, or omit information intentionally or accidentally
Many people publish pages to get you to buy something or accept a point of view. Google makes no effort to discover or eliminate unreliable and erroneous material. It’s up to you to cultivate the habit of healthy skepticism. When evaluating the credibility of a page, consider the following AAOCC (Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, Coverage) criteria and questions, which are adapted from www.lib.berkeley.edu/ENGI/eval_criteria.html.
- Who are the authors? Are they qualified? Are they credible?
- With whom are they affiliated? Do their affiliations affect their credibility?
- Who is the publisher? What is the publisher’s reputation?
- Is the information accurate? Is it reliable and error-free?
- Are the interpretations and implications reasonable?
- Is there evidence to support conclusions? Is the evidence verifiable?
- Do the authors properly list their sources, references or citations with dates, page numbers or web addresses, etc.?
- What is the purpose? What do the authors want to accomplish?
- Does this purpose affect the presentation?
- Is there an implicit or explicit bias?
- Is the information fact, opinion, spoof, or satirical?
- Is the information current? Is it still valid?
- When was the site last updated?
- Is the site well-maintained? Are there any broken links?
- Is the information relevant to your topic and assignment?
- What is the intended audience?
- Is the material presented at an appropriate level?
- Is the information complete? Is it unique?
For a printable form with most of the questions that you will probably want to ask, visit www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/EvalForm.pdf. If you’re unable to view PDF files, you can get a free PDF viewer from Adobe by visiting www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html. For more information on evaluating what you find, visit www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html.
Find documents on the web that provide the answers to the following questions. What’s your level of comfort with the referring site(s) and why? For hints and answers to selected problems, see the Solutions page.
- Is it true that if you touch a cold halogen light bulb with clean fingers, you will shorten its lifespan?
- Are 75% of Americans chronically dehydrated? Find opposing points of view.
- Are you less likely to get dental cavities if you drink fluoridated water?
- Is clumping kitty litter a major health hazard to cats?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of a flu (influenza) shot?
- Does microwaving food in plastic containers or plastic cling wrap release harmful chemicals into the food? Check whether this is an urban legend.
Want more experience assessing the authenticity and integrity of some websites? Try the exercises listed on www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/EvaluateWhy.html.
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