Monday, April 26, 2010

Evaluating Information using a Rat TRAP

There are two major reasons why you have to evaluate every information resource:
  1. People make mistakes, including authors, publishers, and librarians, so nothing is 100% reliable, even scholarly sources from Library databases.
  2. Things can look more reliable than they are, especially now that anybody can put together a professional-looking website with very little time, skill, or money.
Evaluating information, whether on the web or in print, is done on the basis of four factors. There's a mnemonic to remember them: "TRAP the rats (bad information sources.)"

T - Timeliness
  • Is the information out of date?
  • What constitutes "out of date" varies by subject and discipline. In the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, you want the most recent information available. A year old might be too old. In the humanities and social sciences, it really depends.
R - Reliability
  • Peer review uses a network of subject experts to ensure quality control of scholarly articles.
  • Academic publishers hire editors that are subject experts to do the same thing.
A - Authority
  • Does the author have the expertise and experience to know what they are talking about?
  • What are their credentials and institutional affiliations?
P - Purpose
  • What was the author's intention in creating this information source? To inform or educate? To entertain? To persuade? Even to misinform or propagandize?
  • There are myriad sources of bias (a point of view that acts as a filter and blindspot.) Can you detect the author's biases?
  • What possible conflicts of interest might the author have?


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