We Couldn’t Say It in Print If It Wasn’t True

January 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

Avoiding scams and malicious disinformation is pretty easy once you learn your way around, but sometimes bad information can be hard to spot.

 “You can’t believe everything you read” is as relevant today as it has ever been.  Using information requires evaluation of information resources.  This goes for all information resources, the Web, and sites like Wikipedia (the encyclopedia anyone can edit), as well as traditional printed media.

The director of the British Library sums it up (http://publishinghouseresearch.blogspot.com/2008/12/interview-with-dame-lynn-brindley.html) “It is a much bigger theme of media literacy and critical thinking skills – not just trusting what Google gets you. I think you have to triangulate these things, at the very least.” 

Traditional publishing processes might make it more difficult to spread incorrect or inaccurate information in books or other printed material.  On the Web, however, anyone can publish anything at any time, whether it is factual or not.  One thing that limits the spread of inaccurate information on the Web is that everyone is publishing information, accurate or otherwise, and all of it is lost in the noise.

Some entertaining websites, designed to point out the hazards of believing everything you read, are the DHMO Homepage (http://www.dhmo.org/) and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus page (http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/).

There are Billions and Billions of sources of information that are inadvertently or even purposely inaccurate….  And that reminds me of Carl Sagan’s book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” which predated both the Web, as we know it, and the Google Generation, which is all of us now (http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf).  Sagan encourages us to use “scientific thinking” when encountering new information using a “Baloney Detection Kit,” a set of tools to help us construct a good argument as well as recognize a bad one.

The Baloney Detection Kit promotes, for example, independent confirmation of facts, debates from all points of view, quantification, separation of variables, and ensuring hypotheses can actually be tested.  The Kit also provides tools for detecting common fallacies of logic, such as confusing correlation and causation, arguing from authority, and the drawing conclusions from inadequate sample size. The Baloney Detection Kit is summarized here: http://www.carlsagan.com/index_ideascontent.htm#baloney.

It is irresponsible, and sometimes even dangerous (BAN DHMO NOW!), to approach new information without using a critical eye.  Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit is a valuable set of questions you should always be asking yourself.

Links

Google Generation
“We are all the Google generation, the young and old, the professor and the student and the teacher and the child.”
http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/ggworkpackageii.pdf
http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/other_sites/aliss/23augustgodwin.ppt
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0220/p08s01-comv.html

Information literacy in education
For example, see “Big Six” http://www.big6.com/category/overview-of-big6-skills/

Examples pointing out risks of poor Information Literacy
DHMO: http://www.dhmo.org/
Tree Octopus: http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/

Critical thinking and the web
http://library.humboldt.edu/~ccm/crithink.html
http://www.iusb.edu/~libg/pdf/critical-reading.pdf

Evaluating resources like Wikipedia
http://www.information-literacy.net/2008/02/teaching-with-wikipedia.html
‘“For God’s sake, you’re in college,” he said. “Don’t cite the encyclopedia.”’ http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/2598/wikipedias-founder-says-the-site-has-a-place-in-academe

Baloney detection kit and scientific skepticism
http://www.carlsagan.com/index_ideascontent.htm#baloney
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_skepticism

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Entry filed under: information literacy.

Wired October 2007 A dumb book about The Dumbest Generation

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