Baloney Online

On Monday, 25 April, a newspaper ran an article about detecting baloney online.

Actually, what caught TNL’s attention was the first word/verb of the headline –  “Teach people to detect baloney online”.

Unfortunately, the silly old girl thought she was going to be reading the “hows” of detection. Not quite, it seems. The article says you got to teach students to detect baloney online (or as the writer says, “more politely, [teach] critical thinking”).

You know, for the longest time, librarians have been going forth to teach how to evaluate information sources. We have it in our website, we include it when we teach how to search for information for student projects, we point it out when we show how to look for specific information such as citation counts, we draw comparisons between reputable databases. The list goes on.

Librarians deal with information and sources of information every day. When it comes to information sources, we have an in-built  system in our librarian DNA that kicks in automatically. We instinctively check, counter-check, dissect, pull apart, question, compare, verify. 

When searching for information for your projects or assignments, all TNL can say is “Don’t settle”.

Never settle for results or information gotten from your very first search.

Eh, excuse me, you mean when your Mummy shows you a photo of second Aunty’s friend’s cousin’s eldest daughter who is also single and available, you say, “Ok, Mum. Book Ritz-Carlton and make sure it is on my corporate retreat weekend so I can save on the honeymoon”?

It is easy to pick the most relevant Internet sites (Google does a good job of pushing the most relevant sites up the list, doesn’t it?). The questions you really got to ask yourself are – Is this enough to help me analyse, am I seeing the whole picture, who or what is this organization that is producing this data, when was this published? When you start asking questions, they don’t stop.

It takes time to figure out which are good and reliable sources. And you know what – you, you students and lecturers out there, you with your questions (“What are the population prospects of Penang for the next 10 years?” “What is the market share of Xbox in Singapore?”, etc), you contribute to this process of testing and evaluating the strengths and limitations of one information source from the other. You contribute to the building of this knowledge base.

So you see, the more one searches, the more one compares, the more one knows, one cannot settle.

Or perhaps, one just needs to check with the librarian. That works too.

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